A surgeon has dedicated his life — and house — to "massive tableaus depicting his love for his wife, each showing the couple set in a different era: ancient Greece, for example, or czarist Russia."
Reports the Times:
Lighted by sparkling chandeliers, the hall is 100 feet by 25 feet, with a soaring 22-foot-high coffered ceiling in gilt and lacquer. The walls are embellished with gilt cherubs, roses, feathers, foliage and birds. Enormous and richly hued paintings in elaborate jeweled frames depict romantic, mythological and biblical scenes.
58-year-old Dr. Anthony Walter of Houston was a successful orthopedic surgeon before recuperation from illness turned him onto art. Since, hand-painting, gilding, inlaying and carving his palatial home (which takes elements from the Vatican, Versailles and St. Paul's) has become his full-time job, "a tribute to his wife, Susan... meant to teach others how to achieve God’s salvation through marital love. It is also his take on Christianity."
Walter's goal was not merely to portray the Bible in a clearly understandable way, but to "say with my decorative art... that morality is accepting the consequences of your actions, which no one is willing to do these days,” which is why the paintings have themes like charity and repentance. The tableaux of his wife are somewhat less traditional, described as portraying Walter "in a toga or courtly garb reaching passionately for her or bowing before her." Susan, a retired lawyer, for her part, says “'I get a little embarrassed sometimes...But it certainly makes me feel special.'”
The project alternately strikes one as a touching tribute, an impressive display of discipline, and a testament to great hubris, the latter impression enforced by grandiose statements like, "I am a huge threat (to modern art museums) because what I have done renders everything they have junk...I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant but the reaction of people who come in here tells me the power of it.” It's tempting to wonder if part of the reaction is merely stupefaction at the scale and grandeur of the project. Of course, Taj Mahal-style tributes are always about both giver and muse, so it's probably unfair to criticize the undertaking on that ground. What's interesting is that like Laura or Beatrice, his wife seems to have had no choice in becoming part of a grandiose moral allegory or the embodiment of "good." That's probably in keeping with the traditional role of a muse, but it's still somewhat disconcerting to see it acted out so literally in this day in age - a tribute to classical art, indeed. Or a testament to the dangers of early retirement.
At Houston Surgeon’s Home, An Ode To His Wife And To God [New York Times]