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William Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, February 6, 1931

c/o Señor de la Espada
Diego de León 34

Dearest Aunt Mildred

Daddy has asked me to see a Greco hereSee also letters of February 5, 1931, and March 7, 1931 [1]. which he was told was in the possession of an antiquity dealer. I have been and will do my best to give you my impressions. It stands in its frame about 1.50 m. high and is about 1.10 m. wide. It represents our Lady visiting Elisabeth and those two standing figures form the composition of the picture. Elisabeth has her back to a doorway of simple classical lines and our Lady who is the nearer figure of the two has her left arm outstretched on to Elisabeth’s shoulder very roughly thus:

As you see the picture was intended for a circular frame. The two figures are dressed in blues. Roughly speaking, our Lady might be said to be dressed in sea-blue and Elisabeth in slate blue. But what blues! In that picture there are all the blues that have ever been painted I think. From what I know of Greco’s painting, it is of the last period—the finest. The stroke of the brush is magnificent. You have these two figures and a cloudy impatient sky—red-brown—behind our lady. It is very thinly painted and the red-brown of the preparation is seen in certain places and gives the picture a lovely tone. It is perhaps the finest Greco I know, and is in its original untouched condition. Here and there the paint has dropped off in very small flakes; no attempt has been made to repaint it and it has simply a fresh coat of varnish, well applied. I can’t tell you how dramatic it is and those blues are a pool of loveliness where the eye loses itself for ever. The dealer’s name is SanchezApolinar Sánchez Villalba (died 1958), a Spanish dealer of art and antiquities in Madrid. The following anecdote was published in La vanguardia española (February 1, 1966): “cómo Apolinar Sánchez, madrilèno, adquirió en el pueblo de Gálvez un espléndido Greco por la suma de 17.5000 ptas.” “how Apolinar Sánchez, from Madrid, acquired in the village of Gálvez a splendid Greco for the sum of 17,500 pesetas.”—Calle Santa Catalina, 3 Madrid. He says it belongs to a family and has always been in that family’s possession. He made a terrible fuss about my seeing it and at first when I asked him, pretended he didn’t know what I meant. It was only by mentioning Utrillo that he allowed me to see it. The ‘family’ won’t hear of any photographs being taken and it has never been reproduced. Now I don’t believe in that family for the following reasons:

1) The circular shape of the picture
2) The fact it has never been reproduced
3) The condition it is in.
4) Sánchez saying the family didn’t need to sell it.
5) The secrecy made about it.
6) Not allowing any photographs to be taken

And I would submit the following explanations:

1) The circular shape of the picture means that it was painted for a definite place, say a church.
2) It has recently been discovered and sold to this man secretly; explaining the fact that such an important picture has never been reproduced.
3) The condition it is in bears this out. Sanchez does not dare get a man to repaint any of it as it is secret. It is very fresh and the little flakes hardly matter. If it had been in a family it would have been repainted or at least kept in conditions which wouldn’t cause the paint to fall.
4) If the family doesn’t need to sell it, why is it selling it? You don’t part with a thing you love unless you have to.
5) While understanding a ‘family’ not wanting their name known, yet they could advertise by photographing it and having the picture talked about. The fact is that unless Sánchez is willing no one can see the picture and he told me I was the 5th to see it. That rings true but not if it belongs to a family whose friends would certainly spread the news and many people would see it.
6) I suspect Sánchez of not allowing photographs to be taken because he doesn’t want the picture talked about. The price he asks is 400,000 pesetas, $40,000. I am sure he’ll take half; I am equally sure that he is afraid of the thing coming out. What I think has happened is that he got on the track of this thing in a church somewhere where it was fairly dirty and hidden, bought it for a song, has had it cleaned himself in his own place, put in a square frame and is trying to get rid of it. He’s contradicted himself several times too; I can’t conceive any family owning that picture and not having it photographed. I went to the big photographers here—MorenoCasa Moreno, Madrid.—and looked through all their Grecos in private collections. It isn’t there. Daddy has asked me to write this to you giving my impressions. Here they are; I will be here till April 20th. Will you cable if there is anything you want me to do. I will do anything you want with the greatest pleasure. I think it is a great, great picture and quite unique in composition and in the wonderful blues in it; talk about the Blue Boy!!!

My best love to you and Uncle Robert,


Associated Places: Madrid (Spain)
Associated Artworks: HC.P.1936.18.(O)