It is a perfectly natural impulse for us to wish the house of a cherished writer to illuminate his works. We are strangely pleased to visit the various houses where Edgar Allan Poe boarded and find them cramped and forlorn. Or to discover that Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s house on the Hudson River, is a fantasy of a romantic Dutch cottage that might have loomed in one of his stories, mysterious in the moonlight. Or that Mark Twain’s house in Hartford is a Victorian carnival of spiky dormers and angular gables, vibrating like a paddle steamer about to shove off, or explode.

But all these houses ever really illuminate is biography—the writer’s good taste, or lack thereof (or, in Poe’s case, his poverty). Their relationship to the literature is indirect. Our interest in a writer is what happens in his mind and not outside his window. Not so with the painter,...


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