In my opinion, Frederic Bartlett was a better art collector than artist. He certainly married up. He and his 3rd wife lived only 3 months each year in Bonnet House. This residence is now the primo attraction in Fort Lauderdale, a town with few of these. Compared with, say, Whitehall, Henry Flagler’s Palm Beach mansion, it fades. But it does have a certain allure since it’s clearly a beloved house created over time by 2 privileged people who thought they were better artists than they were. The repeated description of them as eclectic collectors is definitely true. They clearly had trouble parting with possessions as you will see if you visit Bonnet House. I can’t show you their obsessiveness because inside photography is strictly forbidden. Let me just say that Evelyn doted on monkeys.
Evelyn was Frederic’s 3rd wife. He studied art in Germany, was somewhat successful, and built Bonnet House after he married Helen Louise Birch. It was a wedding gift from Helen’s father and what Frederic thought represented a Caribbean-style house. Construction began in 1920 on what had been a coconut plantation. Helen, who died after 19 years of marriage, was Frederic’s 2nd wife. His first was Dora Tripp with whom he had a son named Clay who died in his fifties in a motorcycle accident. His 3rd wife was Evelyn Fortune Lilly. He was 58 when they wed and she meant money via Eli Lilly and Company. Her father was on its board of directors. Our tour guide Jerry told us that they had about 8 homes. In each room where I was thinking of clutter or Goodwill Industries, Jerry was saying, “It works!”
In 1926 Frederic gave an art collection now worth billions to the Art Institute of Chicago in memory of Helen. Among the 24 works was George Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”. None of the paintings were of his creation.
Frederic and Evelyn apparently had a happy marriage. They traveled the world collecting seeds for their desert garden, grew orchids, amassed impressive shell and carousel animal collections, etc. He died from a stroke at the age of 80. Jerry told us that he managed to finish the floor in Evelyn’s music room just before this happened. Smoking, talking, and serving Rangpur lime cocktails to guests, Evelyn lived to be 109.
Bonnet House is obviously a 5 Compass attraction to those who work or volunteer there. It sponsors a lot of community functions like a “Concerts Under the Stars” series featuring what appears to be Clay playing a saxophone on the cover of its performance schedule. Because I’m not a fan of grand disorder or decorative monkeys, I would give it a 3 or 4. Bonnet House is named for a lily that grows abundantly in the area. Jerry told us that Evelyn saw an alligator in the Bonnet House Slough with a lily on its head like a bonnet. If true, it sounds to me like Evelyn had one too many Rangpurs.