Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes, March 13, 1907
March 13th 1907
You will probably imagine, when you see the stamp on this letter, that I have deserted. Not altogether. I was innocent of any intention of leaving Paris at the end of the first week of February, when I was stricken with influenza and bronchitis, spent an uncomfortable week in bed, another two nursing myself indoors and finding that each time I went out the air cut my throat all into shreads [sic]. So it is not surprising that I listened to the voice of the doctor when he suggested—nay commanded, the riviera. Only, of course it couldn’t possibly be the riviera.
So the end of February saw me here, and here I remain. The weather is very good—but I am so much occupied by other things that I don’t think I should notice it much if it were not. I don’t suppose that if it had not been for this accident I should ever have come to Cataluña.Cataluña (Catalonia), an autonomous community in northeastern Spain, comprising the provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. Its capital city is Barcelona. When it is warm enough for CastileCastile and León (Castilla y León), an autonomous community in northwestern Spain. I can go nowhere else—could go nowhere else—for now I see myself returning to this once despised province.
Two years ago Heaven sent me to Berlin, and you will probably still remember my rapture. It is too much to hope that a windfall is to return every two years, but it has this time. Know that Barcelona is hideous—almost as hideous as Berlin or America. I begin to think that the first condition for an interesting town is that it be hideous. The old town is picturesque ect [sic]—but the new, which covers five times as much ground, has all been built in the last 30 years. 40 years ago the town had walls and was shut every night at 8.
They began by building in a nondescript style, which recalls those melancholy avenues of the same date in New York. But during the last ten years they have seen Darmstadt and studied “decorative Kunst”Dekorative Kunst, a periodical published in Germany between 1897 and 1929 that covered leading European designers and design. and the “Studio”The Studio, an contemporary art periodical first published in Britain in 1893. and have done marvels. BaedekerIn 1827, Karl Baedeker (1801–1859) founded the German publishing firm, Baedeker, that was a pioneer in the business of travel guides. says that “in the newer quarters many tasteful and even magnificent modern edifices may be seen.”
Barcelona counts some dozens of millionaires—Spanish millions, but as good here as others elsewhere, and all began as workmen. Their sons are now grown, and a precious lot they are. People talk of new riches and vulgar display in America, and I have seen something of the sort there, but nothing worth mentioning beside this. It seems that it is impossible to get the people to use more than one room in their new palaces. They all sleep, eat, ect [sic] in the kitchen. The other rooms are kept dark and opened for funerals. Also it is impossible to get them to buy a picture which costs more than the usual furnisher’s landscape. All the money goes into the façade of the house, which is of indescribable magnificence—enameled from top to bottom. And the lines—things which the Munich and Vienna people have dared to try in a cupboard, the great architect of Barcelona, Gaudi,Antoni Gaudí (Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet) (1852–1926), a Spanish-Catalan architect. has applied to whole façades. Not a single door or window is of the same shape or size, or leans the same way.
I think I must buy you some photographs. Gaudi has not built a great many private houses, but he is engaged now upon a Church of the Sacred FamilyAntoni Gaudí became the architect-in-charge of the unfinished church of the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain, in 1883, dedicating himself completely to the project from 1914 until his death in 1926. which will give you an idea of his style. Remember: that the thing is going to be three times as high as the photograph shows—that the whole facade is going to be enameled, and that almost all the statues are mouldings from nature—that every detail is a symbol, and that the whole is to form a mighty poem. One day when I was standing before the façade, a group of rather rough men came up, and one of them said—“Y eso lo llaman simbolismo, porque ni Cristo lo entiende.”“And this they call symbolism because even Christ doesn’t understand it.” On the whole, as it now stands, the façade looks like a rather ordinary gothic one, upon which a vast mass of sugar paste has fallen, and monstrous insects of all sorts (gargoyles ect [sic]) are crawling over and through it. I am quite incapable of seeing anything of great originality in it. The idea of enameling façades, which they all take as a proof of genius, is of course taken from the Assyrians.
Enough for the outward aspect of the city.
The people are not far different. Fifteen years ago CatalánCatalan, a Romance language and a co-official language in the Spanish autonomous communities of Catalonia. was spoken by everyone, but as a patois,Non-standard dialect. and no one ever knew how to write it. That is, apart from the founders of the movement, which thus began to gather force. Catalan newspapers did not exist. Now thousands of books are published every year in Catalan, and heaven knows how many newspapers and periodicals. The language, of which I will send you some samples, is able to stand on its legs as a written tongue, but as until very lately it was only used colloquially, they have had to fish out old disused words from the Limousin dialects and invest them with modern meanings. In many ways it is a fascinating experiment, and I cannot but have some sympathy with them. Castillian has been used so long almost as a dead language, one knows exactly when each word is to be used, each expression. Trying to use it as a modern vehicle of expression is not unlike trying to sculpt with bricks. But old fashioned people, who speak the vulgar domestic Catalan, have great difficulty in understanding a modern play.
My knowledge of it is slight enough. I didn’t understand a word when I arrived, but now read it pretty easily and understand most of a conversation. The accent is very different from Castillian,
final g and ch like k
other g’s and j as in French
x like the soft German guttural,
otherwise like Castillian, but with a very different intonation.
I suppose it is inevitable that most of the work now produced should be shoddy imitation of the French. The poetry is more interesting. A purist called VerdaguerJacint (or Jascinto) Verdaguer i Santaló (1845–1902), a Catalan poet and prominent figure of the Renaixença, the reexamination of the Catalan language and literary past. has written some very find verse—I know very little of it yet as I have hardly any time to read. He is dead, and the foremost poet now is one MaragallJoan Maragall i Gorina (1860–1911), a Catalan poet. Twenty-four letters from Royall Tyler to Joan Maragall are housed in the “Fons personal de Joan Maragall,” Maragall Archives, Biblioteca de Catalunya, Barcelona. of whom I will send you something. He is a man of more than charm, he seems to me to be a saint, and radiates love upon all who come near him. I spent a long day with him in the country and felt afterwards as if I had seen God. Perhaps I am too much blinded by his personality to judge his work, but I read a little of it before knowing him, and had the same impression. Try reading it aloud. He lives near Barcelona, and is not very well. He is quite out of the bustle of the regionalist and separatist movement. His wife is quite neutral. There are lots of children and the house is as ugly as possible. Don’t think the man is simply an innocent, a “bendito de Díos.”“Blessed by God.” He knows all the Latin tongues perfectly, speaks and reads German well and reads English. And he is capable of very sharp critical judgment on books and men. But he is naturally so sweet and clean minded that lack of sincerity cannot be.
He may be coming to Paris this summer or late Spring, and if you come over—? I hope you may meet, for my love of Spain is proud of him.
After this what shall I say of the many good, bad, and indifferent DagoesA usually derogatory term that Royall Tyler is using for “Spaniards.” with whom I play and sit nightly and thump the table? They are the general run of coarse, live men—journalists, playwrites [sic], musicians, painters, ect [sic]. Interesting, many of them, but of limited intelligence and experience. Also they almost without exception are Separatists,Catalan separatism, a political movement that supports the independence of Catalonia from Spain and France. Catalan separatism is based on the belief that Catalonia is a nation with its own history, language, and culture. which seems to me suicide for Cataluña—or worse, incorporation with France. One may say in their defense that they are between the devil and the sea. I can’t conceive any way out for them, Castile being what it is. Thus the aforementioned Dagoes are apt to take seriously certain things which make real conversation difficult. Fortunately there is one, perhaps the sharpest witted person I have met, who delights in experiments, and with whom I have played many tricks upon the believers. This is one Utrillo,Miguel Utrillo (1862–1934), a Spanish painter and art critic who acknowledged paternity of and adopted the painter Maurice Utrillo. author of several articles in “Les Arts [sic] et les Artistes”L’art et les artistes, a monthly journal on art from ancient to modern times, published in Paris between 1905 and 1939. ect [sic] on El Greco,Miguel Utrillo, “Le Greco,” L'art et les artistes 1, no. 6 (September 1905): 200–07. at present editor of “Forma,” [an] illustrated monthly dedicated entirely to reproduction [of] and comments on old Spanish art—also a certain amount of modern Spanish art—it was necessary at first in order to get a subscription list—but he puts in less of the modern each time, and when he does, and writes an article on ZuloagaIgnacio Zuloaga y Zabaleta (1870–1945), Spanish painter. See Miguel Utrillo, “Zuloaga,” La forma 2, no. 18 (February 1907): 203–38. or SorollaJoaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923), a Spanish painter.—it is fortunate that those gentlemen don’t know how to read between the sugary lines.
I have asked him to send you a number of Forma. It has been going less than two years, and has greatly improved since the beginning, and Utrillo has travelled all over Spain for a year and a half studying for it. The reproductions are good.
He keeps several heavily worried painters in leash, and they have motored me about the country and I have seen many things which it is impossible to describe. We have also made a four days excursion on foot together and are to start again in a day or two. To give you a general idea I must tell you that there is more Byzantine-Romanesque work in Cataluña than in the rest of Spain put together. That there exist numbers of Romanesque altarpieces 4 x 6 ft. or larger, painted and with relief on wood, the like of which I have never seen. Byzantine tapestries.In his early letters, Royall Tyler occasionally seemed to equate the terms Byzantine and Romanesque. See also letters of December 5, 1903, and June 14, 1904. Tyler may be referring in part to the Tapestry of Creation (Girona Tapestry), a Romanesque panel of needlework from the eleventh century that is housed in the museum of the Cathedral of Girona in Catalonia, Spain. The panel depicts a series of theological scenes related to Christian creation myths. In the early twentieth century, this textile was published as a “Byzantine tapestry.” See Carlos de Bofarull, Catalogo de la exposicion de arte antiguo (Barcelona: T. Mallorca, 1902), 39–40. In Spain, a Study of Her Life and Arts (London: G. Richards, 1909), Tyler would describe the textile as “probably of the tenth or eleventh century and of Byzantine flavour” and compare it to the mosaics of San Marco, Venice. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Barcelona was in constant intercourse with the East and with Italy by sea. Persian pottery and glass is still found here. Persian and even Japanese stuff is still found in church vestments in remote villages. There was also a marvelous outburst of art in Cataluña itself. Lots of rich merchants, which is after all what art needs, a school of painting—partly inspired from Italy and partly from Flanders, which is one of the most interesting of all the Spanish schools—also of Gothic sculpture and architecture—glass, which I find more beautiful than the Venetian. The constant relations with Valencia and Murcia brought all the Moorish ceramics and stuffs, and the Court of Aragon lives chiefly at Barcelona, and everyone spends all their money in adorning their palaces. Result—a meeting place of all the European and many of the Oriental currents of art, which has no parallel.Royall Tyler would later write on the art of Catalonia and Barcelona in Spain, a Study of Her Life and Arts (London: G. Richards, 1909), 320–97.
With the union of Castile and Aragon, all ceased. The Court went away to Castile, and the renaissance has hardly left a trace here. Nor since the renaissance has there been any real revival. I don’t believe in the apparent revival of today either. The capitalist class, on whom the thing must largely depend, is utterly indifferent to everything except its riches. No HavermeyersHenry Osborne Havemeyer (1847–1907) and Louisine Waldron Elder Havemeyer (1855–1929), American art collectors. or FricksHenry Clay Frick (1849–1919), an American art collector. here. The literary movement meets with absolute indifference unless it conforms to the very ordinary taste of the public. There are several fairly interesting painters, but all of them live in Paris and sell their pictures to Durand Ruel.Paul Durand-Ruel (1831–1922), a French art dealer. The most interesting of all, one Nonell,Isidre Nonell i Monturiol (1872–1911), a self-taught Catalan painter. has not sold one single picture in Barcelona, and is courted by dealers and amateurs in Paris. The painters who have succeeded here, CasasRamon Casas i Carbó (1866–1932), a Catalan painter. and Rusinol,Santiago Rusiñol (1861–1931), a Catalan painter. are not bad, but in no way interesting—that is Rusinol—Casas has a surety of drawing which must appeal to one. His pencil portraits of everyone under the sun, which occupy square miles of wall in his house, are curiously interesting.
I return to Paris for the reopening of my school April 8. Pray Heaven Cataluña has not driven every trace of hardly assimilated political economy out of my head.