Partner Catherine Jeanne Keshko Ghyka
Villa Gamberaia, Via del Rossellino, 72, 50135 Firenze FI
Florence "Flora" Blood (1866 - October, 1925) was the longtime partner of Princess Catherine Jeanne Keshko Ghyka. The princess, who was a famous beauty in her youth, is said to have shut herself away when her beauty began to fade. It was rumoured that she would emerge from her villa at dawn to bathe in the pools before disappearing inside for the rest of the day. At night, heavily veiled, she would return to the garden. She lived alone apart from her companion, the American Miss Florence Blood.
Florence "Flora" Blood was born in Württemberg, Germany, the daughter of Caroline (Carrie) Laura Shelby (1826-1892) of Nashville, Tennessee and Henry Blood (1811-1885) of Norwich, Vermont, a businessman. Her siblings are: Henry Blood (1852-1888), John Shelby Blood (b. 1859), Lawton Blood, Olga Blood (1865-1889), Marie Blood Walsh, Laura Shelby Blood Converse, Maude Blood Sanderson (d. 1927), Mattie Walker Blood Lee. Living in Paris with Leo Stein, Gertrude Stein’s brother, Blood took painting lessons with Paul Cezanne. Later in Florence, Blood painted several views of the water parterre garden at Gamberaia, all in the color style of Cezanne. Bernard Berenson called her a dilettante painter, her ability mediocre. As reproduction, however, her work was thought to be astonishing. She copied very well. As the city of Florence was known for its remarkable reproductions of art, it is quite possible Miss Blood did these to provide personal support.
Florence Blood was a small dainty woman who along with Jeanne Ghyka, wore long velvet dresse in the style of tunics. When Maud Cuttwell, the art historian, wondered how the Princess Ghyka could bear to live with Miss Blood, such a commonplace person, Berenson laughed and replied, "She isn’t commonplace. Miss Blood is brutal and vulgar and wicked, but she isn’t commonplace".
Florence Blood figures in Mary Berenson's diary as an occasional visitor. Nicky Mariano, having befriended Blood's niece at school in Florence, was invited to Sunday afternoon receptions at the villa. Though no mention is made of the Princess, Mariano describes Miss Blood as 'very gracious and welcoming' and 'a dainty small woman in a long velvet dress with a magnificent blue-greyish Angora cat on her lap.'
In 1902 Edith Wharton thought the water parterres of Villa Gamberaia were unrelated in style to the surroundings… completely out of harmony with the rest of the villa. It was unrelated in style to any other part of the garden. Blood rose to the garden’s defense, charging Wharton with the dubious fault of being in-critical. Wharton never was permitted to visit the garden again.
Evelyn March Phillipps complimented the Princess and Blood, praising them as two “artists” who are “careful not to go too far” in making changes in their garden at Villa Gamberaia, and “yet who have initiative, who are not afraid to show that the world has gone forward, and that today can add beauty even to the most beautiful creations of yesterday.” While the Princess may have been more withdrawn, her companion, the American artist Miss Florence Blood was, conversely, very much a part of the local expatriate literary and artistic social scene. She maintained the more historically accurate and acceptable contemporary social functions of the garden. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the First World War soon changed life for the female companions. Miss Blood abandoned the bliss of the Gamberaia in order to manage a hospital for allied soldiers, set up in the villa Sachino bought by Princess Ghyka’s sister near Biarritz. After the war, she returned to the Gamberaia, but her failing health left her to live her last few years as an invalid.
The role of Florence Blood in the design of the garden at this time is not clear. Harold Acton, who was very young at the time, stated that Miss Blood was also a designer. She is said to have advocated the planting of parasol pines. She is cited in Lean Zach’s guide in 1921 as infirmed. Her role was most probably advisory at best.
Miss Florence Blood died in Florence in October 1925. For Princess Ghyka, the war and the Russian Revolution had taken a toll her properties and fortune. In the same year of Miss Blood’s death, she sold the villa, moving first to one, then to another, of the smaller houses on, or close to, the property of the Gamberaia. Eventually she settled in a small village in Switzerland where she spent the last years of her life.
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