Elizabeth Peyton painted this “still” from Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of The Age Of Innocence by Edith Wharton, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as the Countess Ellen Olenska and Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland Archer.
The two wealthy, middle-aged widows from New York who are visiting Rome in Wharton’s short story Roman Fever might’ve been guests at Newland Archer’s wedding. While their marriageable daughters are off on dates with dashing Italians, they sit on a terrace overlooking the Forum and remember their first visits to Rome as young ladies. They recall how they were often warned about catching Roman fever or pneumonia when it became deathly cold in the evenings, and how one of them nearly died. As is always the case in Edith Wharton’s work, etiquette and politeness mask violent passions. (Scorsese of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull was a perfect fit for The Age Of Innocence.) One of the women confesses to something she did many years ago, leading to a stunning revelation. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.