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Pasatiempo: la Vida de un Pintor
More than forty years after he wrote them, his memoirs, in Spanish, were published in 2004. They cover his extremely eventful life from his birth in 1893 until he was forced to go into exile in early 1939. In these memoirs he doesn't discuss his American years or life in Paris before Franco finally died and he was able to return to Spain.
Edicios de Castro
Waiting at the Shore
Waiting at the Shore is my biography of my father. It covers his entire life, from his birth until his death in 1978. His memoirs end with his arrival in New York in 1939. This biography describes his exile in New York and in Paris following the Spanish Civil War: a time of great struggle for him, when he needed to both economically reestablish himself as an artist (having lost the base of his home country) and to master and transcend his art.
Letters of Support
Excerpts from Waiting at the Shore
(In a hopefully printer friendly version.)
The Forward and the Introduction to Waiting at the Shore
is a song which is felt in the soul."
My father's favorite definition of art, which he attributed to Dante
Toward the end of the war my father and Don Antonio met again, this time in Barcelona. Machado knew that he would soon have to go into exile and desperately asked my father, who was going to New York on a brief visit, to do him a favor. "Please, Luis, speak for me to Anna Hyatt, the wife of Huntington, in my name. If she wishes to she can help me. I know that she appreciates me. It was she who commissioned Joaquin Sorolla to do my portrait for the Hispanic Society."
"Yo era un pintor, no un revolucionaro."
I was a painter, not a revolutionary
An Open Letter to Ernest Hemingway - 1939
(I think this may have been translated from the Spanish by my mother.)
" This is what my father wrote to Ernest Hemingway for his show
at the Associated American Artists' Gallery. "Here I am to have
an exhibition of paintings and here I have the necessity of writing
something for the catalogue. On my list of friends the finger has pointed
once again to your name; that won't surprise you. You introduced me
to New York in 1934 through a collection of etchings, at a time when
I found myself in an enchanted palace of Madrid from which I couldn't
depart without the permission of Madame the Goddess of Justice, who,
since her eyes are blindfolded, is not interested in the art of painting.
"Later I presented a collection of war drawings with your interpretation, and a book of these same drawings carried a preface written by you. Destiny has united us, and at your door I am again asked to call. For me, what greater honor than to go on accompanied by your literary force? And surely the prestige of your talent will give the public the illusion which is lacking in me. But what can we do now that you are so occupied? And I haven't been able to show you my latest work, that which we are going to hang on the walls of the gallery. We shall have to limit ourselves to having your name protect my first exhibition of paintings in America. And so I am going to dedicate it to you, although I don't know whether it will turn out well. You remember that in the XVI and XVII centuries it was the fashion to launch works of art and literature under the moral protection of a great gentleman who would permit the dedication. Even Cervantes did it with his Don Quixote. And I remember that at that time there was a crafty teacher of Salamanca who published a book in which the greatest insolences were thrown in the face of those who least understood, but it was saved from ecclesiastical censorship because it was dedicated to Don Jesus Christ. Perhaps I also need more than you - a whole Jesus Christ - to save me.
John Dos Passos' and Hemingway's Catalog
for the Show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, NY: 1934
John Dos Passos' Contribution
Ernest Hemingway's contribution:
If this exposition of dry points by Luis Quintanilla had been two months ago, the list of patrons would have been headed by His Excellency the Spanish Ambassador, His Excellency the American Ambassador to Spain and followed by other dignitaries and names of people.
As it is there are no patrons, the artist is in jail in Madrid charged with being a member of the revolutionary committee of the October revolt in Spain with the prosecuting attorney asking a sentence of sixteen years at hard labor for him, and the only excellencies are in these magnificent etchings.
Good Spanish painters are always in trouble. It is a country where the tradition is, and it may be a foolish tradition, I will not argue it with you, that a man should be a man as well as an artist. Velazquez, with the least brains and no ambition but to paint and be respectable, had servant trouble. He tried to be, too well, the perfect servant of royalty and it killed him, finally. Goya's troubles came, mostly, from what he carried between his thighs and they were fairly continuous, very interesting to study, and sometimes seem unnecessary. But the necessary misfortunes we never make ourselves.
If we omit the Greek who, not being a Spaniard, cannot be judged by his trouble, which was religion, there are no other really good ones until Picasso and Juan Gris. Picasso has been in grave trouble for a number of years now through money and the desire for money. Juan Gris died in great trouble over the self-imposed lack of it. Miro's trouble is quite complicated yet very simple and he could do with a little more of it; and now here is Quintanilla in trouble with revolution.
On the day, a not dull day, that I had a cable in Havana from two friends
in Madrid saying in a clearly decipherable yet mystifying to a censor,
impromptu code, "Luis hoosegowed," signed Ziff Allen, I received,
forwarded in the mail, a mimeographed sheet entitled, The Event of the
Year, which event was a literary tea to be given at the studio of someone
for the guest pickets of the Macaulay Company. The invitation to be
present, to picket and to proceed to the self-styled literary tea was
signed by a man who, since two years, cannot write fifty consecutive
words without using the word revolution.
Now this may possibly be a good time to suggest that a small tax be levied on the use of the word revolution, the proceeds to be given to the defence of, say, such people as Luis Quintanilla, or any of your friends who are in jail, by all those who write the word and never have shot nor been shot at; who never have stored arms nor filled a bomb, nor have discovered arms nor had a bomb burst among them; who never have gone hungry in a general strike, nor have manned streetcars when the tracks are dynamited; who never have sought cover in a street trying to get their heads behind a gutter; who never have seen a woman shot in the head, in the breast or in the buttocks; who never have seen an old man with the top of his head off; who never have walked with their hands up; who never have shot a horse or seen hooves smash a head; who never have sat a horse and been shot at or stoned; who never have been cracked on the head with a club nor have thrown a brick; who never have seen a scab's forearms broken with a crow-bar, or an agitator filled up with compressed air with an air hose; who, now it gets more serious - that is, the penalty is more severe - have never moved a load of arms at night in a big city; nor standing, seeing it moved, knowing what it was and afraid to denounce it because they did not want to die later; nor (let's end it, it could go on too long) stood on a roof trying to urinate on their hands to wash off the black in the fork between finger and thumb from the back-spit of a Thompson gun, the gun thrown in a cistern and the troops coming up the stairs: the hands are what they judge you by - the hands are all the evidence they need although they won't acquit you on them being clean if they are sure of the roof; nor even came up with the troops.
No. The word revolution should be taxed, and guest pickets, if they wish to speak it at the Event of the Year, should wear a celluloid badge, something like a hunting license, showing they have paid for the privilege,
Luis Quintanilla, who has the right to use that word, is very sparing of it. He does not take the money and rant to save his soul like Diego Rivera. He has painted great frescoes in the Casa del Pueblo and the Ciudad Universitario in Madrid and there are no symbols of capitalism, or any symbols in them. Always there are people as there are people in the etchings. He does not judge them; only presents them because he has led them in action. If you follow you idealize. If you have led you present and criticize, you have the right to satirize, and when you hate, you hate intelligently.
Quintanilla in whose apartment the arms were stored when it was not known that it would be a bloodless revolution that sent out Alfonso, Quintanilla who raised the republican flag over the royal palace, climbing up and running it up with his own hands before it was certain there was an abdication, and who took no credit and never let it be referred to without joking, where he would have been embalmed in school books if it had been an American revolution; this Quintanilla draws with a sharp instrument on nickled zinc to make etchings that are beautiful and lasting in any epoch at any time; etchings that can speak familiarly with thee and thou, without affectation of comradeship, by merit, with any etcher that has ever lived. And I believe that those who use the word revolution easily, too easily, to save their souls or to make a career, should pay a small tax to those who have a right to shout it as they were supposed to shout and sound horns in the north of that country a long time ago.
But those who truly have a right to use that word, through exposition of their bodies and their liberty, speak very quietly, do their other work (and all good work goes to the same end) well; and when they are in jail write that they are quite comfortable, with good people, not at all discouraged, ask how you are and how are the children, naming them, and is the hunting season good, better than this time last year when we were in Extremadura after wild boar (he wrote before that in November and December he would be in Holland, very good pictures there and in Belgium on the way) but he is very well in jail and I will write and tell him all the news, really in jail it is very funny.
Now he is in jail and the great frescoes he was making for the monument to Pablo Iglesias will not be completed. This last revolution it seems was a bad one; not like the good one that brought honor and the chance to work. A good one, you know, is one that succeeds. A bad one is one that fails.
You who read the catalogue are all right, you know. You must not feel badly. Do not let it disturb you. Madrid is a long way away and you never heard of this man before. What did he get in trouble for anyway?
Sure. That is the way to look at it. But look at the etchings. Take a good look at the etchings.
John Dos Passos' Contribution
Here's something very different from the export-Spain of the art galleries and cruise folders. No high combs or modish mantillas or singers of La Violetera dressed up for Holy Week. Here are the back lots, the cheap whores, the beggars and bootblacks, and the new business men greedy for power. This stuff of Quintanilla is different, too, from the work of the brilliant Spaniards of the school of Paris. This is a Spaniard who stayed at home, instead of moving out to peddle the magnificent Iberian tradition of design in the safe world of international Ritz. For a man who can see and feel it's always more dangerous at home.
Staying at home it was natural that he should be a satirist; most of the best Spaniards have been satirists. There's a type of clear noontime logic in the Spanish blood that can only come out as satire. The sharp metal cleanness of etching is particularly attractive to the eye and hand of a satirist. A satirist is a man who can't see filth, oppression, the complacency of the powerful, the degradation of the weak without crying out in disgust. A great satirist can turn disgust into violent explosive beauty. Quintanilla has expressed his disgust in etchings and as an active revolutionist. It is natural that the civil and religious bureaucrats, the landlords and industrial exploiters who have used the army, the politicians-on-the-make and particularly those faithful watchdogs of property, the Civil Guards, to get back power in Spain for property, should have put him in jail. Looking at his etchings it is hard to avoid drawing a parallel with Georg Grosz's early work in Germany. The political moment too is similar, a time of defeat of everything that gives men hope.
For inventors of images and designs for the eye or the ear or that amalgam of feelings and sensations that writing appeals to defeat is sometimes better than victory. A good thing, too, because there's a great deal more of it. There's been many a good work started in jail. We can only hope that that honorable ex-republican, ex-radical, ex-firebrand, Mr. Lerroux, is letting Quintanilla have pencils and paper.
You can't add much to work that's meant for the eye by talking about it. There are the etchings themselves on the walls to look at. Good etchings are so rare that there's no mistaking them. You feel in them the sharpness of the tools and the acid, the clean elegance of the metal. In Quintanilla's there's a nightmarish fantasy about the contours that calls up the black Spain of Goya, and a new palpable balanced density that, unless I'm very much mistaken, is something quite fresh in etching. Perhaps it comes from having healthily digested the pure visual experiments of Cezanne and the Cubists. The hardest thing to take, and the best quality in them, is their terrible sanity and clear balance. The few people who care for painting or drawing in our time have come to look for and enjoy childish fancy in an artist, entertaining twilight insanities in work that will look charming in a room decorated with modern furniture at the cocktail hour. The clear expression of a clean eye and an uncluttered grown-up mind is something much more dangerous and explosive. These etchings offer no amusing escapes to the tired artlovers. They are the statement of a grown-up man facing a bitter world in the sun at noon.
Hemingway's Catalog for
the New York Museum of Modern Art show: 1938
A year ago today we were together and I asked Luis how his studio was and if the pictures were safe.
"Oh it's all gone," he said without bitterness, explaining that a bomb had gutted the building.
"And the big frescoes in University City and the Casa del Pueblo?'
"Finished," he said, "all smashed."
"What about the frescoes for the monument to Pablo Iglesias?"
"Destroyed," he said. "No, Ernesto, let's not talk about it. When a man loses all his life's work, everything that he has done in all his working life, it is much better not to talk about it."
These paintings that were destroyed by the bomb, and these frescoes that were smashed by artillery fire and chipped away by machine gun bullets were great Spanish works of art. Luis Quintanilla, who painted them, was not only a great artist but a great man. When the Republic that he loved and believed in was attacked by the fascists, he led the attack on the Montana Barracks that saved Madrid for the government. Later, studying military books at night while he commanded troops in the daytime, he fought in the pines and the grey rocks of the Guadarrama; on the yellow plain of the Tagus; in the streets of Toledo, and back to the suburbs of Madrid where men with rifles, hand grenades, and bundled sticks of dynamite faced tanks, artillery, and planes, and died so that their country might be free.
Because great painters are scarcer than good soldiers, the Spanish government ordered Quintanilla out of the army after the fascists were stopped outside Madrid. He worked on various diplomatic missions, and then returned to the front to make these drawings. The drawings are of war. They are to be looked at; not written about in a catalogue.
There is much to say about Quintanilla, and no space to say it, but the drawings say all they need to say themselves.
The Creation of All the Brave
2. All the Brave
Of all my father's books the only one that came out truly well was La Carcel por Dentro. The reproductions are excellent and the physical texture of the book itself is very fine. His other books, most of them, are handsome too. But though the quality of the workmanship can still be seen in many of the drawings, the fine lines of the reproductions in All the Brave are either so fine that they disappear entirely or are barely visible. And in some places the dark lines are garishly thick and crude. This is unfortunate, for these drawings, so distinct from his others, the Madrid street scenes, of jail, and later on the ones he did in exile, have been generally considered to be among his best.
There were 140 drawings initially and 62 appeared in the book. Elliot Paul wrote a running commentary, Jay Allen wrote the text, and Hemingway produced three prefaces. And from start to finish the project had one problem after another, with the end result being that my father never did like the book.
It's too bad, I think, because a great deal of spirit went into the creation of this book: somehow it just never came together and worked out. But so many disparate and powerful emotions were at play that it seems miraculous that the book came about at all. First of all the editor, Louis P. Birk, who represented Modern Age, the publisher, had it in his head to call the book "Guns and Castanets." My father described Birk as a "Californian, sympathetic, a drinker, and before occupying himself with books a rancher, for whom Spain was a country which was represented by dancing with more or less noise." Elliot, Jay, Ernesto, and my father all had a predictable response to this suggestion: they pointed out to Birk that the book was about war, and not some sort of Spanish operetta about gangsters. And my father told Birk that if the book were given such a title he couldn't return to Spain and show his face. The bibulous Birk stuck to his guns and insisted upon the title. They enlisted the English novelist Ralph Bates to settle the issue, and as any sane man readily would he sided on the part of the authors. Birk good naturedly issued a statement in which he declared: "the book will now be called All the Brave, senor Quintanilla can go back to Spain and I am going on a vacation."
Yes, powerful emotions were at play and comedy aside the authors themselves were also unable to put the book together in a dispassionate and reasonable way. Hemingway, who was in Key West, was deeply caught up by events in Spain and when things began to go quite badly in March felt a great need to return to the front. The Fascists had launched their drive down the valley of the Ebro River with a hundred thousand troops and two hundred tanks. And the future of the Republic looked critical.
As my father noted, Ernesto felt a deep personal sympathy for the Spanish cause and people and on the l9th of March left on the Ile de France for Europe. But he had signed a contract with Modern Age to supply a lengthy preface for the book. There was the catalog for the Museum of Modern Art show and, of course, the publisher could use that. But Modern Age hounded him now for the additional words. He tried to write them in Key West before leaving. He tried again on the boat going over but still the words wouldn't come. For a writer to whom writing was as important as it was to Hemingway it is easy to see how such an obligation could have been irksome when he was so distracted and consequently was incapable of bringing forth the required words. But there was still the catalog: this he had written when he was in a better frame of mind and it appears as the first preface in the book. Hemingway returned to Spain on April first and a few days later toured the front with Herbert Matthews. Then on the fifteenth the Fascists completed their drive down the valley of the Ebro River dipping their regimental banners into the sea at Vinaroz. The Republican zone was cut in two now and in the Hotel Majestic in Barcelona he finally forced himself to write the second preface on the night of April 18.
"For a while in the months of March and April," he explained later on in a note which was added to the finished volume, "the Spanish war went very badly. I was always sure of an ultimate victory by the government; but there were many days when it looked as though long before that victory should be achieved a great many of us would be released from any necessity to write prefaces... It was on one of those days, one of the very worst of those days, that I received a cable from New York saying that unless the publisher received the introduction by a certain date he would cancel the contract... "
So, using candles - there was no electric power - to light the paper in his typewriter he banged out what surely must be one of the most unusual prefaces ever written.
He starts out with a sort of petulant conventionality: "They are marvelous drawings. Quintanilla is a great Spanish artist and an old friend. He fought in the revolution and he fought in the war. I should now sit at the typewriter and write about how great he is as an artist, man, soldier, and revolutionary. But the typewriter is not going very well this evening."
"Now if there were three candles to write this by instead of two candles it would probably be a brighter and more cheery introduction. You need good light to write introductions by. That is how they differ from dispatches. You can write dispatches by any sort of light but introductions need a better light and more time. So if anybody does not like this introduction, let them write an introduction of their own and I will be glad to sign it for them.
"At this point in the introduction there should be a little literature about what it means to a man to have all his life's work destroyed. So at this point we will omit that bit of literature and take it for granted that nobody thinks it is funny for all the work a man has done in his life to be destroyed. Is that all right?
"We will just take it for granted that it is unfortunate.
"Now what comes next in an introduction? Certainly; that is it. The comparison with Goya. So let us just skip that too. Enough people will make that without our having to put it into this introduction and the candles are getting low.
"So what comes now in an introduction to drawings of war? There certainly should be some reference to war itself. What do you think of war, Mr. Hemingway? Answer: I find it unpleasant. I have never liked it. But I have a small talent for it.
"Do you like drawings of war? Answer: no. But these are very good ones. You probably will like them.
"What do you like in war? Answer: to win it and get it over with and have peace."
"What would you do in that event? Answer: I would go to the Stork Club.
"You are evidently not a serious fellow. Answer: perhaps not.
"You should not speak with such levity on such serious matters. Answer: just where are you talking from, yourself?
"That was New York speaking, but this is Barcelona, and yesterday was Tortosa, and tomorrow will be Tortosa again, and it is very difficult to write an introduction when the only thing you can think about is holding the line of the Ebro. Compared to the necessity of holding the line of the Ebro everything, including drawings of war by a great artist and one of your best friends, seems like chicken crut, and that is what makes this an unpleasant and churlish piece of writing.
"If it was not for that you could remember the old days when we worked hard in Madrid together. That summer - when I wrote a book and Quintanilla did his great etchings and we all worked hard in the day and met in the evening to drink beer in the Cerveceria in the Pasaje Alvarez and Quintanilla explained quietly and simply to me the necessity for the revolution - is a long way away now. It seems so far away that it is like a different world. It is like the old world there was once when, seeing a signboard saying 350 kilometers to such and such a town, you knew that if you followed that road you would get to that town. While now you know that if you follow that road you will get killed.
"All that makes a little difference in you, and tonight the writing is not easy."
Now he winds down with a final flourish of bitter cracks about writing an introduction. For he wasn't about to undermine his integrity as a writer with a series of insincere expressions intended to create a preconceived desired impression. "It is coming out on the paper all the time. A letter at a time. A word at a time, a page at a time it comes out as well as any toothpaste squeezes and probably reads as attractively as some of the viler toothpastes taste." And finally finishes with this: "So now we are getting to the end of the candles and the end of the introduction, I hope you like the introduction, I hope you like the pictures; I hope the publisher has not been annoyed, it was just kidding you know, publisher old boy, old boy. I hope you like Mr. Quintanilla; if you meet him, give him my regards.
"You see there are quite a lot of Americans strung out along the Ebro too, along with Belgians, Germans, Frenchmen, Poles, Czechs, Croats, Bulgarians, Slovenes, Canadians, British, Finns, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, Cubans, and the best Spaniards in the world. They are all waiting there for the decisive battle of the war to commence. So now if the introduction stops, please don't mind. It could easily go on much longer if I had learned the touch system so that I could write in the dark. But it would all be very much the same. Because everything except the Ebro seems very unimportant tonight."
Whatever feelings Hemingway amply displayed in this anguished piece of writing he certainly hadn't lost his ability to write. And were it not for the pressure from the publisher he would never have written it at all. Now that he did he sent it off to Modern Age who, intact, included it as the second preface in the book. Later on in May, while still in Spain, Hemingway wrote his third preface in which, at least in spirit, he more closely follows the conventions of preface writing for books of art by close friends. And in the apology he begins with he alludes to the anger he felt at my father for not being present in Spain when the military situation looked so bad. On that night in Barcelona's Hotel Majestic on the l8th his bitterness was apparently very great for having been obliged to write an introduction when the man, the Loyalist Spaniard, the general, he was writing it for was so safely and so very far away in New York. In the third preface though his tone is calm and apologetic and it too was published intact as written.
"At best an introduction is only a literary curiosity so we will let that particularly churlish piece of writing stand. It is a good example of the peculiar, unattractive, surly righteousness which certain phases of war can produce in people. It is peculiarly unjust because I was angry at Luis when I wrote it. I was angry at him, I suppose, because he was alive and too many other people you were fond of died that month.
"Luis Quintanilla is one of the bravest men that I have ever known. War is not his trade and there is no reason for him ever to do any more of it. He did enough of it. But this was the time when the Italians had been beaten again up the Ebro above Cherta. They had been beaten by Lister's division, and another division, the Third, of the old Fifth Army Corps, in a bitter ten-day battle; and we knew that they would never take Tortosa. We also knew that there was something rotten on the left flank and it went, very suddenly, with old Duran holding all the mountains in between, and after ten days you had to give them what they never could have taken. At such times people become very bitter and unjust. Afterwards you apologize. So I apologize to Luis, and to Luis only. He knows the sort of thing we are talking about and he understands.
there is the reference to the Stork Club. That looks like levity and
levity is unpardonable in a serious writer. I have learned that, because
when I have committed levity it has never been pardoned. A serious writer
should be quite solemn. If you joke about things, people do not take
you seriously. These same people do not know there are many things you
could not go through and keep sane if you do not joke, so it will be
well to explain that levity has not been committed. The reference to
the Stork Club is serious.
"And when you would lie in the dark sometimes, with no company but the pictures in your head of what you had seen that day and all the other days, it was all right and there was always plenty to think about - military, political and personal. But sometimes you would think about how nice and noisy it would be at The Stork now, and that if you were at The Stork you would not have to think at all. You would just watch the people and listen to the noise.
"In the old days in Madrid when Quintanilla and Elliot Paul and Jay Allen and I lived there, there were many places where you could eat as well as you could do at The Stork and have just as pleasant a time. But food is scarce in Madrid now and there are very few good things to drink. Hunger is a marvelous sauce and danger of death is quite a strong wine, they say, but under hunger the stomach shrinks so that when you finally get a chance at a series of decent meals you have much appetite in the eyes but no capacity for eating; and you become so used to danger that there is no exhilaration in it, only annoyance.
"You keep The Stork, though, as a symbol of how well you would like to eat. Because this war in Spain is not being fought so that everyone will be reduced to a level of blockade rations but so that everyone can eat as well as the best.
"There should be a lot about the old days in this, but a strange thing about the war is that it destroys the old days. Each day wipes out each other day and by the time you have two or three hundred days of it in the same scene where once you lived in peace, the memories, finally, are as smashed as the buildings. The old days and the old people are gone and nostalgia is something that you read about in books.
"Later on, perhaps, it all rebuilds just as the buildings are rebuilt. It was all very simple in the old days. The old days were so simple that now they seem almost pitiful. If you want to have it simple now, you can do one thing: take orders and obey them blindly. That is the only simplicity that is left now.
"If you are a writer and, now that you have seen it, you want to get some of it down before it should cauterize itself away, you must renounce the luxury of that simplicity. In writing you have to make your own mistakes. So now you are all ready to make them for awhile.
"I would like to hope that, in writing from now on about this war, I will be able to do it as cleanly and as truly as Luis Quintanilla draws and etches. War is a hateful thing. It is inexcusable except in self-defense. In writing of it, a writer should be absolutely truthful because, of all things, it has had the least truth written of it.
"There are various reasons for this. One is that it is very dangerous to see much of it, and anyone seeing very much of it at first hand will be either wounded or killed. If those at it are not wounded or killed, they are apt to become brutalized so that they lose their sensitivity to normal reactions. Or they can become so frightened that their reactions are not normal either. To write about it truly you have to know a great deal about cowardice and heroism. For there is very much of both, and of simple human endurance, and it is a long time since anyone has balanced them truly.
"I envy Quintanilla very much that he has his drawings made. For now I have to try to write my stories."
Yes, drawings of war took a back seat to the war itself. And in April and May in Spain Hemingway was much more interested in events themselves than in the aesthetic realm which transforms events into works of art. My father too, you can be sure, would have far preferred the "pathetic simplicity" of the old days to the whirlwind of events he had been caught up in: to paint and work and to meet his friends in the evenings in cafes. But now he was a witness to the destruction of his country: and very soon, in his mid forties, he would find himself without a country at all.
Hemingway may have also been thinking of my father playing the part of an oso blanco in New York when he bitterly forced himself to tap out that introduction on that night of April 18. Every muscle of his body must have rebelled against sitting down to type out that preface as if in doing so he would also somehow organically damage himself. A word at a time, a page at a time, it came out as well as any toothpaste squeezes reading as attractively as some of the viler toothpastes taste. This book was not a mere collected volume of drawings but a catalyst for the turbulent emotions of the authors. A perfectionist, Jay Allen on the other hand was unable to complete his introduction because he was caught up in that vicious circle within which he could never be pleased. And though much of his writing was brilliant his lengthy introduction trails off eventually into a series of vague allusions with little concrete meaning. Only Elliot's running commentary, in which he described the background of the drawings, resulted in being apt and to the point.
After several delays, the lengthiest being Jay's inability to finish his introduction, the book finally came out, in April of 1939, about a year after the contract was signed. The reviewers were overwhelmingly sympathetic once again, especially to the drawings, a few of them taking note (and exception) of the turbulence of the introductions. The eminent genius of Goya was very much present still, looming large in the background, and nearly every reviewer made the historical comparison between the recent war and the Napoleonic invasion. And not a few of them deeply felt the loss which had just occurred, displaying a conscious understanding of the tragic significance of the death of the Second Spanish Republic on April 1. For the observant and unselfdeluded knew what was coming. It was in the wind for anyone who cared to raise his head.
Charles Poor of The New York Times said that: "No record of the war in Spain will outlast the incomparable drawings of Luis Quintanilla, the illustrious Spanish artist." And that pretty much sums up the consensus of that time so long ago. And though such adjectives as terrifying, slashing, and savage were occasionally used to describe the drawings, their delicacy and grace were also commented upon. Elliot, in his running commentary, noted: "Do not imagine Quintanilla exclaiming, 'Ah, here is a picturesque ruin of a workman's home. What mass, what space, what repose in the corpse in the foreground.' If there is beauty on these pages, it is because beauty is perverse and indestructible. Otherwise the same men who have destroyed Spain would have stamped it out."
In Sitges he had been able to immerse himself into his work, and working furiously made his collection of a 140 drawings. Some sort of miracle must have taken place too for in the end he had not had his artistry brutalized out of him by the war, as he had feared. Like the drawings he did under prison conditions the creator within emerged. What was he thinking? What had occurred within? Did the tranquility and gardenlike atmosphere of his pleasant house on the beach permit his deepest nature to reemerge? Hemingway said: "I would like to hope that, in writing from now on about this war, I will be able to do it as cleanly and as truly as Luis Quintanilla draws and etches."
Cleanly and truly. Elliot further says: "The purpose of these drawings is to tell a story. Whatever the artist had - the sensitiveness of his nature, the skill improved by intense years of work - he put into his record of war against his people." Then he adds: "There is no question of the excellence of the drawings nor of the truth contained in them. There is a grave question as to what remains of the conscience of men."
Years later, in his memoirs, my father had this to say about the drawings: "This experience convinced me that the totality of painters who have left interpretations of the same theme on their canvases have never actually seen war. Whoever has directly seen war would never be able to represent these scenes of combat in a romantic manner as illustrations for novels. War creates a special atmosphere which mutely injects brutality: after intervening in it - and I am speaking here for myself - the decantation of our emotions and thoughts begins. And if the artist then recurs to his art to transmit this emotion he will search for precise images which are simple and reduced, although realistic, which evoke that strange sentiment which is created by the destruction of lives, works, and buildings. In Toledo I directly participated in the attack on the Alcazar: among all my drawings not even one touches upon that theme, in spite of its being extremely spectacular. Because when it was before my eyes the conditions to see it artistically did not exist: it was much later, when I was no longer a combatant but a spectator, that I made the effort to recover my art, trusting to my artistic style to interpret this abnormal theme free from literary prejudices or attempts to create them falsely. Goya left to us in The Disasters of War and in some of his canvases scenes of that periodic catastrophe which it appears men cannot live without. In the engravings it is easy to observe how he had heard tell of the atrocities of the French invasion, provoked by the unlimited ambition of Napoleon, and with his overflowing imagination had put them into a plastic form. For these spectacularly barbarous and bloody events, before which Goya had never been present, actually occurred and were often related. We now know that just as it is impossible to put doors before the open countryside, it would be unwise to attempt, even theoretically, to enclose in realistic reductions the creations of a genuine artist who will first close his eyes to conceive an idea and then will open them to realize it. The imagination of an artist is capable of surpassing the best camera, precisely because they are two completely opposite things. For me the work by Goya in his engravings on the theme of war is the most interesting I know of in that genre: I find in it the shameless Spaniard who boldly tells humanity, 'Here you have that...': and that that is the quartering of cadavers, firing squads, outrages, violations, arson fires, acts of egoistic cowardice and ferocity: and the curious thing about it results in being the extraordinary delicacy of some of the drawings, the artistic delight Goya experienced in executing them, some of them being his most beautiful, in contrast to what they represent. My hundred and forty drawings are very modest: the idealized emotion of a few humble houses in Almeria which had been bombed by the Germans; Andalucian peasants who were taken by surprise by the catastrophe; soldiers from various parts of Spain; cadavers and the drama which occurred at the monastery of Santa Maria de la Cabeza; Pozoblanco and the Moors; Fascist, German, Moroccan, and Italian prisoners and a Requete from Navarre in his scapulary reading 'Halt, thou bullet!' - who was an example of a prisoner who had been caught on the front line just shortly before posing for me, and whose aspect and facial expression gave him the appearance of a persecuted beast."
The Portraits of Writers as How They See Themselves
At about this time (1943) he began a series of portraits of American writers as "how they see themselves." I don't know whose idea it was, if it was Elliot's or my father's, but Elliot was the first writer to sit and all the others followed. And at least sixteen writers came to the studio to pose. Elliot as a picador, appearing magnificent in his cloth of gold, the stark black cap of the torero on his head, his open gaze peering out at us steady and honest. And John Dos Passos as a Sunday painter, in a little yellow straw hat holding his brush up, a palette in his other hand, his collarless shirt horizontally striped white and red: then Carl van Doren as a sculptor of Benjamin Franklin; and William Rose Benet as a countryman of the Ballearic Islands; and George Jean Nathan as Hamlet, appearing in black, a skull with a red rose in its mouth held in his hand; then Lillian Hellman in greys, because she saw herself as grey in spirit; and then Leonard Lyons as Mercury, and Dorothy Parker as either a modern day Betsy Ross or Madame Defarge; and then Quentin Reynolds as a judge, Vincent Sheean as a Mandarin colonel, Arthur Miller as Abraham Lincoln, Louis Untermeyer as Orpheus, Richard Wright as a jigsaw puzzle, Freda Kirchway of the Nation very beautiful as Madama Butterfly, William Shirer posing as an astrologer, John Steinbeck as a sea serpent, and my father, in his own self portrait, as John the Baptist, holding his head up on a tray.
Shirer was the second writer to sit. They had dinner together at the Allens late in 1943 and it was there where my father asked him to pose. Shirer chose the theme of an astrologer and came to the studio for three or four mornings to sit for an hour, smoking his pipe, calmly reading. And in his portrait he appears in his tall peaked astrologer's hat intently staring down, glasses on, pipe held to his mouth, an open book flat before him, his astrologer's robe impressionistically represented with reds and violets and a few symbols of fish and scorpions and other things.
The idea for the series caught on and created some enthusiasm. This was a project with great potential and the writers themselves were eager to pose. But since the collection of portraits has broken up I can't be certain of everyone who posed. That Christmas my father went with Jay Allen to see Paul Robeson in Othello and was greatly impressed. Over the years he often expressed his desire to do Robeson but I don't know if the actor was ever asked or not. By the summer of 1943 a book of the portraits was being announced. Each writer was to contribute a brief commentary and Whit Burnett was to be the editor. It was projected that the portraits would travel throughout the United States and then go on through South America before being reproduced in the book. Besides the writers I have already mentioned the announcements which appeared in the New York papers included Hemingway as a Spanish grandee and Sinclair Lewis as "a hortatory preacher a la Elmer Gantry," or as a preacher reading Voltaire.
As art the series was a great success. As commerce it was a dismal failure. The book was never published, the paintings were never shown, and when in 1947 Esquire magazine offered six thousand dollars to reproduce twelve of them over a period of one year my father turned the offer down because, he thought, they weren't offering enough money. The publicity alone would have compensated for any shortcoming in the fee. His ability to paint portraits has commonly been acknowledged by his admirers to be extraordinary. And if with this publicity he had attracted requests from a few wealthy individuals across the country each year to do their portraits he could easily have supported his family. But he was always the first to acknowledge that he had no practical sense. And as he once commented to a close relation, once a painter becomes a portrait painter he's finished as a painter. It was not that he would not do portraits of wealthy strangers who came to the studio, but that he refused to allow himself to become characterized as a fashionable portrait artist. So this series of paintings, dispersed now, my father having either sold or given many of them away to the writers themselves, has never been shown, and as far as I know this is the first that has ever been written about them also.
The writer I most keenly remember from that time is Dorothy Parker. She would be a little difficult to forget. She has often been characterized as acerbic and sharp tongued but I didn't know her to be that way at all. On the contrary, when she came to the studio she always impressed me with her great humanity and the emotional warmth with which she treated my father. I can still vividly see the scene as it repeated itself over the mornings she came, which must have been in the late forties. She would come to the door (the studio had its own door leading out into the hall) and my father would open it. And there she would stand in the hall with the tears already forming in her eyes. "Ohhh Luis," she would say as she entered the studio, and my father would embrace her with a warm hug, a tiny smile playing on his face. Whenever she visited she brought great life with her and I could feel it flood the studio as she and my father communicated, in words, expressions, and body movements. It truly was electrifying. And why were there tears in Dorothy Parker's eyes? I think because, as a fellow artist and creator, she keenly felt my father's tragedy: the tragic loss of the Republic, and his isolation and abandonment in this country. Cut off from his native Spain he was a refugee without roots or means of support. And to many American leftists he symbolized the heroic attempt of the Spanish Republic to preserve democracy against the horrors of Fascism. She felt, I believe, all this deeply; and then there was also the artist's own charisma, a certain magic he created, which as a poetess she also must have deeply felt, with the result being that the studio flooded with life.
So my father painted her as either Betsy Ross or a modern day Madame Defarge, knitting. And in the portrait her sensitive face is stained with tears, for she wept as she posed. There is no ridicule or satire in the tears' presentation or any maudlin bathos: but a great portrait painter he represented her deepest soul and she appears to us noble. As a child I didn't know who she was. But with the life, the emotion, the great humanity she brought with her to the studio she would have been very difficult to forget. And though I have been told she didn't like children very much with me she was always very kind.
The writers were eager to pose and word about what the artist was doing down in the Village got around. Some of the writers he had known in Europe: Elliot, Dos Passos, Bill Shirer; but others he was meeting for the first time. A network of sorts developed in which one writer would tell another about the project and over the next few years those who sat came to the studio. Louis Untermeyer, for example, often closed his letters to my father with a list of names of writer friends he thought might make good subjects. "I rarely see Mencken, MacLeish, or Thurber, all of whom live out of town. But I will certainly speak about your remarkable interpretations to Arthur Miller, Henry Canby, Fadiman, and Franklin P. Adams," he writes in one letter. In another he says - "Arthur Miller would make a magnificent subject - tall and gaunt, a wonderfully chiselled face... If you would like, I will try to get him in touch with you, for I know he would be as impressed with your work as I am. Your canvas of me is the brightest spot in my living room... " Canby, Fadiman, and F.P.A. didn't pose. But Arthur Miller did, and in a letter to my father he writes: "Dear Mr. Quintanilla: the only hesitation I have about sitting for you is due to an inability to decide who or what would be a representative symbol. I have been liked to Lincoln by some, which is flattering, but a few see in my face the present Pope. I myself, of course, like to think the former. Anyway, I would be delighted to sit, having been an admirer of your work for many years. I work, usually until noon. But I wish you would phone me and we can set up the days."
About the hour, my father must have prevailed. Arthur Miller posed in the mornings. About that sort of thing my father could be somewhat imperious. When George Jean Nathan tried to arrange for Eugene O'Neill to sit for his portrait, O'Neill agreed to, but at the time he was living in Baltimore, and he was ill, fatally ill as it turned out, and he wanted my father to come down to Baltimore to paint him. But my father wouldn't insisting that O'Neill had to come up to New York. And when asked by his friends why he wouldn't go down to Baltimore I can still remember how he would exclaim, as if persecuted by an unreasonable world - "The patient goes to the dentist! The dentist doesn't go to the patient!"
The result of this was that O'Neill's portrait was never done, which is too bad, I think, because it would probably have been quite a portrait: there would have been a lot to work with a face like that.
of Arthur Miller's visits to the studio are very faint. He had two
plays running on Broadway at that time and I was going to grade school
only a few blocks away on Greenwich Avenue, at P.S. 41. He dressed
very simply, in tweeds which were somewhat threadbare and worn at
the elbow. And I recall an ancient raincoat which lacked some of its
buttons. And the overall impression which remains with me is that
he seemed to be an unassuming and quiet man who was more interested
in observing the passing scene than in being observed. When I came
home from school for lunch there would be Arthur Miller with my parents
calmly talking after a morning of work. The spread my father favored
for lunch at that time had a decidedly Euro-American character: French
bread, olives, wine, cold cuts, what he simply called delicatessen.
After work, painting throughout the morning, the sharpness of Italian
salami or prosciuto with a spot of red wine and white French bread
would fill the spot such work creates with just the right enlivening
accent. But in view, though, of my parents' ongoing financial straights
these noontime meals were somewhat extravagant, and once coolly contemplating
the spread of expensive cold cuts Arthur Miller quipped: "That's
no can of Campbell's soup:" a remark which my mother remembered
the rest of her life.
I was sixteen years old and Marilyn Monroe was the reigning undisputed Goddess of Eros on and off the screen throughout the entire Universe. Countless times I had sat alone in some dark movie theater peering up at her extraordinary presence weaving its subtle magic, and the thought that she would actually be coming to the studio instilled in me an awful terror. For I was convinced I would instantly electrocute her on the spot when the time came to shake her hand, and the responsibility of calmly and indifferently sitting in the studio, as the adults calmly chatted, in her presence, was more than I could bear.
Miller wrote a charming letter in the summer of that year in which he announced he would be coming: "I would like nothing better than to have the portrait you did of me," he said. "As you know, my wife also shares the delusion that I am some way connected with Lincoln, and she will be especially proud to have anything which will prove that she is less mad than she is... "
Oh the melting shocking reality of an intimate revelation of Marilyn Monroe's true feelings! And Miller's manly possessive manner of expressing them!
The days passed as I went about my business, going to school and taking the subway, seeing friends and eating at the table, all the while attempting to behave as if the terrible imminence of her arrival meant nothing at all to me, as if nothing out of the ordinary were about to happen. And I can still recall the blush which once my mother casually dropped that Marilyn Monroe would be coming to the studio seemed to permanently ingrain itself beneath my skin, as I went to school, sat at table, saw my friends. Then, finally, when the fatal day was nearly upon me my mother just as casually dropped that the Millers wouldn't be coming after all, that they had canceled. The portrait was wrapped up in brown paper and delivered up to their hotel. A great feeling of relief came over me. But to this day I still wonder what it would have been like to meet Marilyn Monroe. And a certain clammy, empty aspect characterized that sense of relief also.
Perhaps the best portrait in the series, certainly my favorite among them, which fortunately I still have, is the one of Carl Van Doren as a sculptor of Benjamin Franklin. In it he appears from the chest up with his left hand quietly resting on top of the head of Franklin's bust, his fingers spread, and with his other hand holding up a chisel. The composition is in greens and whites with an impish good-natured grin playing on Franklin's chalk white face, and the living flesh of Van Doren's face and hands starkly stand out against the inanimate whites. Perhaps it is the composition which makes this painting so fine, for the face of Franklin, in its whiteness, humorously dominates the foreground and Van Doren's own face, set slightly in the background, dominates the entire painting with a vibrant life. Looking at the photographs I have of these portraits it does not stand out from the others as well or as forcefully as it does in actuality. They look fine, the portraits do, in their photographs: but the camera has rarely been able to capture the emotion and the unique painterly qualities of my father's work. The actual portrait of Dorothy Parker is so much more moving than its photograph, the physical impact of her presence so much greater. Having sold Lillian Hellman her portrait, which I understand she never paid for, it is impossible for me to compare the photograph with the original. In it her living faces emerges from its grey background with a beauty which does not belie her humanity. He didn't paint birthmarks and warts, but if there was a prominent blemish on a face he would indicate it impressionistically in a way which didn't detract from the face's genuine beauty or character, and his brush concentrated on the soul, the inner being of the face he portrayed. I'm not implying here that my father covered up some blemish or other on Lillian Hellman's face: I do not know or care. But out of the greys, which were not flat, never flat, for he didn't merely smear a color monotonously over a background but combined numerous dabs to create an expressive painterly harmony which had an artistic interest in itself, her face emerges, living, lined with thought and care, her ample brown hair - she appears to have taken great pains to do it up - only hinting at the elaborate coiffure. Because out of the greys she herself saw as representing her own spirit a living being emerges which, combined with the quality of the artwork, creates an extraordinary impact. And in this all his portraits shared the same great combining of art with humanity: which strikes me as an ideal way of doing a portrait.
So at least sixteen writers came to the studio and each sat for three or four mornings for his or her portrait. Steinbeck as a sea serpent because he believed he had actually seen one: Leonard Lyons, the gossip columnist, as Mercury, the messenger of the gods: William Rose Benet as a Ballearic countryman in a rich opulent red felt hat which I still have: Richard Wright as a jigsaw puzzle, his hands appearing apart as separate puzzle pieces, one pointing to a little white object which looks like a Ku Klux Klansman: Quentin Reynolds in the black robes of a judge, unsmiling, holding the scales of justice poised from one hand, the background a light orange with greys and blacks. Some had been old friends in Europe during the twenties and thirties and others, once the paintings were done, kept in touch when they drifted away.
Just as Sidney Franklin's presence had filled the studio with life when he had come to pose - "The sun came in, we played music, we drank white wine from California with olives from Florida, and I don't know why I painted gaily the American bullfighter: the Kid from Brooklyn" - a healthy sane amity seemed to pervade the studio when these writers came. And from Hollywood Dorothy Parker would later write: "Please remember me - I'm sending all love, always, from much too far away." And then again: "I am horrible about writing letters, but not about thinking and feeling. And my thoughts and love are with all Quintanillas, forever... " And in yet another she said: "I am overjoyed to have the photograph of my portrait - the best portrait ever painted by anyone, and I do not exclude Da Vinci... "
The glad sanity of art captivated the studio when he did these portraits. I have often read about how awful some of these famous American writers could be: but it was never in the studio when they were there that I, at least, experienced cruelty and stupidity, but always out on the street. Never in the house: at school, in the park, elsewhere, yes, but never when the writers were there. For one thing my father wouldn't have permitted it. In this respect he was absolutely dominant, and was never hesitant about throwing a boor or fool out of the house. I have seen him shut the door violently on the faces of unwelcome intruders and he could ridicule the foolishness of a stranger with a high pitched alto rendition of "Oh yeah, suuuuuure, you bet you." And if the fool persisted he would continue: "Oh sure. You bet. Suuuuuuure:" sounding a little like a cat wailing out of tune or an off-key violin running through the scales. Nor did he have any tolerance for phonies or aggressive impostors and was always very quick at spotting them. Some have suggested, alluding to the reputations of some of the American writers, that when they visited the studio they were on their best behavior. I doubt this: an intelligent union and meeting of the spirit took place when they came. And I think they may have even found a certain refuge and sense of relief in the studio too. Artists are not, by their nature, entirely of this world, and the greater machinery of the world often rubs them wrong. In this respect they can be very lonely and all they can bring their fellow human beings is a message of that other world, a reminder of what it could have been like and the truth of how things are now.
I can still clearly see Richard Wright's face on that afternoon he and his little daughter Julia came to visit me in Washington Square Park. My mother used to sit with the other mothers in the playground facing Genius Row chatting as we played. And little Julia came that day in her new cowboy outfit to play with me. I was in the Cowboys and Indians stage and had two silver six shooters and a pair of cowboy boots and running around the trees and benches of the park shot it up with my tiny friends. Poor little Julia! She was a little younger than me, and had obtained the cowboy outfit, with beautiful six shooters, so that she too could play with us. But when she and her father and my father came to the park that afternoon I refused to allow her to play with us. For Cowboys and Indians was not a girl's game and my honor as a self-respecting boy forbade it.
Poor little Julia. She began to cry and bawl and wail terribly and as my father impotently attempted to convince me to play with her and my mother fussed greatly over me I stared up at Richard Wright's face and I'll never forget what I saw. An expression of calm serene understanding shined through the turmoil I stood in with a radiant beauty for he seemed to understand, I believe, that Cowboys and Indians was indeed a boy's game. And in that understanding he brought a great aspect of transcendent sanity to that scene which I have never forgotten. But poor Julia! She bawled and cried and I don't believe I ever did play Cowboys and Indians with her. Both my mother and father tried valiantly to get me to play with Julia, who was crying horribly. And I can still vividly see her face and haven't forgotten the good natured aspirations expressed within the new cowboy outfit she appeared in. But I was a boy: and I had to firmly adhere to the honor of boys. Cowboys and Indians was not a girl's game. But when I think back on that scene, knowing what I know now about race relations in this country, Richard Wright's reaction to that snub of his daughter seems all the more remarkable. For he instantly understood, and all the awful history of race relations between his and my race had nothing to do with his reaction, his immediate grasp of the situation. Julia, if you are reading this, I apologize for that small tragic incident which happened so long ago. But I will never forget your father's beautiful face in that instant, the noble serenity and understanding he brought to the scene standing above its turbulence.
There is a moral aspect to art. It may have nothing to do with conventional morality, as it's so called, but every day a genuine artist experiences the shocking disparity between the harmonies he discovers in his work and the disharmonies he experiences out on the street. Beauty constantly informs us of another world, the world that could have been: that a poetaster, who greatly feels the beauty in a great poet's rhyme, runs amok and ends up in night court after recklessly bingeing in bars and making a public spectacle of himself out on the street, does not testify to the corrupting power of art but of the enormous sorrow of the failed potential of our lives. Art constantly hammers away with this message, which is why despots of all kinds, whether national or merely corporate, find the non-conformity of the artistic spirit so dangerous. For art always exclaims the revolutionary ideas of impracticality, life for life's sake, indolence, fancy, courage, of facing life and the world on its own natural terms and accepting it. For beauty can only be found in acceptance and conformity is art's natural enemy. And the artist knows that, in truth, it is all those practical people, all the sensible ones, who are eventually going to destroy us.
Letters of Support
Late in 1997, with the hope of obtaining some recommendations for my biography of my father, Waiting at the Shore, I sent out a petition to some of the American writers who were still alive who had once known my father. Here is a copy of the petition and the results I received.
The following is a copy of the petition which was circulated about when my father was in jail in Madrid in 1934. It was found in the archives of the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York.
And from Ernest Hemingway:
“Quintanilla draws with a sharp instrument on nickled zinc to make etchings that are beautiful and lasting in any epoch at any time … by merit, with any etcher who has ever lived.”
“The etchings are damned wonderful, the finest dry points I’ve ever seen by anybody alive.” (Hemingway in a letter to Arnold Gingrich)
Quintanilla “can paint the ass of anybody.” Ernest Hemingway, as related to the author by Ernest’s brother, Leicester.
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