1881 Italian Receipt - 400 Lire

A small receipt from 1881 written in Italian seemed out of place, except for the name Signore Gordon. Ellen was very good friends with the Gordons - but why would she have a receipt of his, written in Italian?

Below is the receipt:

About a month later, Fanny writes to Ellen, 04/17/1881, from Fort Washington, "I enclose Cuyler Gordon's receipt. Nothing has been heard of the picture yet."

Translation of the 1881 Italian receipt, courtesy of Carl McInerney:

"The undersigned has received from Mr. Gordon 400 Italian lire (that is to say four hundred) as payment for a portrait made by me for a cost.

Rome 3rd March 1881

Antonio Haan"

What it all means

In the summer of 1880, Ellen took her first vacation from David and Energy. She went to Alabama, with the children, either to meet or accompanied by her cousin Eliza. Nearly all of them got quite ill, so the vacation was anything but. One bright spot was that Ellen met Mr. Gordon. In a letter to David she writes, " He has taken a perfect passion for me and the children and I believe we reciprocate it. The children perfectly worship him and I never have fancied anyone out of my own family as I do him."

After this vacation, Ellen maintained the friendship with the Gordons. After Mary died at age 16 later in 1880, it seems that Ellen gave Mr. Gordon a picture of Mary, presumably because Mr. Gordon was going abroad and could have a painting done.

The result apparently disappointed Ellen.

Fanny to Ellen 06 19 1881

Rye Beach

I am not surprised dear sister because I expected it to be so, but very much grieved for your disappointment in the picture of our dear Mary. I knew it was just impossible for your hopes to be realized, even if the likeness had been taken from life, it would not have satisfied you. No picture can ever be equal to the one memory paints for us of the face that we love. No artist never mind how skillful nor inspired he may be can ever put life or radiance nor scarcely expression, on canvas.

He always just misses what we look for. Have you ever, in all your life, seen a painted likeness that suited you, even a small one? I have never seen one and therefore the reason that I care so little for pictures, they never give me what I want.

Of one fact I am sure-that you would never have been contented until you have tried the experiment, you would always have felt that it might have been done. If for no other reason, I am glad that you had the picture taken and besides I think that in time it may grow upon you and you will find more in it that now do.


Perhaps it did grown on Ellen, because there is a checkbook stub written in 1900 for framing and packing for a picture of Mary.