Still feeling somewhat poleaxed from a long first day crowned with a four-course dinner, we departed for Taormina and a visit to Casa Cuseni, the extraordinary home of painter Robert Kitson, a scion of a Yorkshire industrial family. Kitson settled in Sicily in 1903, buying a hillside for £35 and building a house 800m above the sea. Ostensibly escaping England for his health, he chose Taormina as a more tolerant society where he and his young Sicilian lover, Carlo Siligato, could live relatively untroubled lives. The house, known as an ‘English house in Italy’ and now an official National Monument and museum, is built and decorated in a mix of the Arts and Crafts movement and Sicilian style.
The dining room, with chairs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, was designed by a friend of Kitson’s – Sir Frank Brangwyn, a student of William Morris – and is lined with panelling and allegorical frescoes depicting Carlo, amongst others, and a baby. The latter was found abandoned and brought up by the two men. Robert Kitson was an avid collector and the house is full of interesting items including artefacts from Pompeii, ivory and ebony caskets, busts and paintings and a library of books, many of which are first editions given by the authors when guests at the house. Leaving the island during WWII his collection was removed by the local inhabitants and hidden until Robert Kitson returned, such was their affection for him. Dying in 1948 the house was inherited by his niece, Daphne Phelps, who rented out rooms to illustrious and disparate guests such as Pablo Picasso, Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell, Roald Dahl and Greta Garbo. Three of our group sat on what was said to be Garbo’s favourite sofa.