Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes, September 21, 1906
Sept. 21st 1906
Ever since I sent off that letter from SevilleSee letter of September 1, 1906. which was, I admit, just the thing to cheer the heart and dispel the interesting cough of the receiver, I have been waiting for a slackening in the storm to write you a better one. Behold, today, after a night spent in walking up and down my room or writhing upon a sleepless pallet, I am in a more benignant mood than I have been for many a long day. And on rereading your letter, it struck me that I had better take advantage of it, and put a lot of it on paper before it goes. For it is only a brief pause I know.
Rodolphe Kann,Rodolphe Kann (1845–1905), a banker and an investor in South African diamond and gold mining interests. He began acquiring objects in the 1880s and formed one of the great Old Master and decorative arts collections in Europe. After his death, his two sons sold the collection “en bloc” to Duveen Brothers in August 1907 for the record price of £1,000,000 (approximately $5,000,000). See “$5,000,000 is Paid for Kann Pictures; Duveen Brothers Give a Record Price for the Famous Collection; Some Likely to Come Here; Rembrandt is Well Represented—Other Masters Exemplified are Van Dyck, Rubens, Watteau, and Hals,” New York Times, August 7, 1907. the famous collector who died a short time past, had woven the most gorgeous web or romance round everything he possessed. Among other things a de la TourGeorges de La Tour (1593–1652), a French painter. for which Duveen, the Bond St. Dealer, had offered him £7,000 (in Rodolphe’s imagination). One day Duveen, whom Rodolphe had never set eyes upon came with a friend to see the collection. When they reached the de la Tour, Rodolphe, who had not caught the visitor’s name, said “Duveen offered me £7,000 for this.” Duveen, amazed—“But I am Duveen.” Rodolphe’s face took on a puzzled look, and he said “Duveen, Duveen—but you can’t be Duveen, because he offered me £7,000 for this pastel.” “Certainly, in that case I renounce the name” said Duveen.
But I shall not begin with anecdotes of the trade. They are too many and too intimately connected one with the other.
However, one more little one. I asked a friend of mine at Salamanca to buy up all the Talavera platesTalavera, a type of majolica earthenware that was originally manufactured in Talavera de la Reina, a city and municipality in the western part of the province of Toledo, Spain. he could find at a fixed price. In his turn he told a peasant in the mountains to do so. After 6 months he saw the peasant once more, but to his surprise there were no plates. He discovered from the peasant’s wife what had happened. The man had bought up about 18 plates but the sight of them made him think—why does the gentleman want these ugly plates? Long days he ruminated this, and finally came to the conclusion that there must be gold hidden in them. So he smashed them into smithereens and tried to smelt the precious metal out of them.
Alfonso XIIAlfonso XII (1857–1885), king of Spain from 1874 to 1885. and some friends of his were relating strange cases of divination and such like and the cases became stranger and stranger. Up spoke the Andalusian Alvareda,José Luis Alvareda (1828–1897), a minister of state. then Minister, “The queerest case I ever saw was a blind man in my country, who would go into a paddock where there were twenty horses, and without touching them would pick out the blacks, chestnuts, piebalds, ect ect [sic].
“And did he always hit it?” asked Alfonso XII
“Never a blasted time” said Alvareda.
I have just returned from a visit to a big dealer here, who is selling out, and I have a proposal to make to you. He has a magnificent carved chest, two metres long and corresponding proportions, middle 16th cent. with the arms of Don Juan de AustriaJuan of Austria (1547–1578), an illegitimate son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. carved on the lid. Oak. The lid really belonged to another chest, but no one but an expert would be able to tell it, and the style is the same, and if you knew how furniture is faked—I have been all about here and in Seville, and of some hundreds of chests, armoires ect [sic] of the period I have seen, not a dozen are wholly authentic. There are always a few authentic bits in such pieces and the rest is faked. Now this chest is all of the period—every splinter of it.
With my miserably insufficient resources I can’t buy it, but as soon as I arrive in Paris or London I am going to try to persuade someone to buy it for 3000 francs—but this, without being able to show it, is always difficult. However, I don’t despair, knowing the value of the chest. At Löwengard’sE. Lowengard, an art and antiques dealership at 1, Boulevard des Capucines in Paris. or at Seligman’s [sic] they’d ask 5000 at the least.
If I fail there, you may have it for 2000 if you want it, and if when you get it you don’t like it, I’ll take it back at the price. Selling it thus, I just get 250 on it. 1750 is what I have to pay.
Please write at once saying whether you want it, and to no one else shall it go for a penny under 3000. Of course all this time the man may sell it so the sooner the better. He only promises not to sell it under 2000 for a month. The dealers here are dying of hunger, at the end of a long summer in which they have bought much and not sold a penny worth. If I had any money I could double it without turning my hand. Not only the lid, but the front of it is beautifully carved, but parts of the front are wormeaten. It is as good a chance as I have ever seen, and if I had seen it at the beginning of the summer when my pockets were as full as they ever are I’d have bought it myself. But now, latter half of September, and after having bought pretty extensively. If you want it, send the money. If you are quick you may catch me before I get to Paris and London. In that case you shall have it and I’ll make no efforts to sell there. If the man sells it before then I’ll return the money (!)
As you see, I take to the antiquity trade like a fish to water. If I did not fall so absurdly in love with things, I might do some good, but once I have the desired pearl-of-price in my hands, I feel inclined to die of hunger e’er we part. For want of money the most wonderful piece of tissue I have ever seen has just given me the slip, may perdition seize it. Sold to a dealer for a good deal more than they agreed to give it to me for if I’d present the money within a month!
You can scarce imagine how I long to see you installed in a cardinal’s chair at 55 rue de Verneuil: to spread before you the spoils of Spain, and roll out my mighty mind for you.
The Oráculo of GraciánOráculo manual y arte de prudencia was written by Spanish Baroque writer Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601–1658) in 1647. is being diligently sought for. The edition of Rivadeneira is such a miserable thing that I think you would prefer waiting for the old one. In the meantime, I have found and sent to you “El Criticon”Baltasar Gracián’s masterpiece, El Criticón, was published in three parts in 1651, 1653, and 1657. It is a lengthy allegorical novel with philosophical overtones. edition of Antwerp 1704 in very good condition, and I enclose with it its much nicer model “El filósofo autodidacto” (self taught) by Abentofaíl of Guadix (near Granada).Abentofaíl (Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn al-Qaisi Tufail al-Andalusi) (ca. 1105/1110–1185), an Andalusian physician, philosopher, mathematician, and poet. Francisco Pons Boiga first translated El filósofo autodidacto from Arabic to Spanish in 1900. This latter is a pure delight, as you will see, and the translation by Pons is excellent.
Please don’t become at all plump and nice natured—I don’t like the idea.“At all” replaces “too” which is crossed out.
The Padre de Lecanda is looking for a reja de hogar.“Fireplace screen.”