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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, February 5, 1931

Paris
5.II.31Thursday.

Dearest Mildred,

When I was in Barcelona the other day (after my visit to Madrid) UtrilloMiguel Utrillo y Molins (1862–1934), a painter and friend of Royall Tyler. told me that there was an astonishingly beautiful El GrecoHC.P.1936.18.(O). El Greco, born Doménikos Theotokópoulos (1541–1614), was a Greek painter of the Spanish Renaissance. See also letters of February 6, 1931, and March 7, 1931 [1]. in the hands of one Apolinar Sánchez,Apolinar 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.” Sta Catalina 3, Madrid.

I couldn’t go back to Madrid, so I wrote to Bill to go and see it—and here is the letter Bill writes about it.See letter of February 6, 1931.

It’s true that Bill is only a whipper-snapper, but he has for the last fortnight been soaking himself in the Madrid and Toledo Grecos, and he really has acquired rather an eye for painting in the last two years—he saw a great deal of it in Vienna. The Toledo AssumptionAssumption of the Virgin, San Vicente, Toledo. This painting, as well as HC.P.1936.18.(O), were both made for the Oballe Chapel in the Church of San Vincente, Toledo. which he mentions is the one in San Vicente, probably El Greco’s latest picture, and my favourite one.

I’m so excited about this thing that I can’t attend to business, and it’s torture having to wait till this reaches you by post—but of course one can’t explain it all by cable.

If you wanted me to, I could go down to Madrid for a day and see it, and perhaps make an offer. I think it would be unsafe to buy the picture in Spain—one could make an offer, payable in Paris—and in dollars or francs, which might prove attractive. One doesn’t want to buy it in Spain and then have the Spanish authorities come down upon it as a monumento nacionál. Please cable me as soon as you have had time to reflect about this.

With fond love to you

R. T.

P.S. 6.II.31Friday.

Bad as business is, things of the highest order are selling still and fetching bigger prices than ever. I went to see d’AguerreHenri Daguerre. yesterday. He has sold that silver Egyptian cat, and the StroganoffCount Grigorij Sergeevich Stroganoff (1829–1910), a connoisseur and collector of paintings and objects of many cultures. Stroganoff had homes in Rome, Paris, and Saint Petersburg. Byz. ivoryNativity and Adoration of the Magi, Byzantine, eleventh century, ivory, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, acc. no. 71.292. See Ludwig Pollak and Antonio Muñoz, Pièces de choix de la collection du Comte Grégoire Stroganoff à Rome, vol. 2, Moyen Âge—Renaissance—Époque modern (Rome: Impr. de l’Unione editrice, 1912), pl. CXX. The ivory was acquired by Henry Walters from Henri Daguerre in 1930. See also letter of October 25, 1930. (which we didn’t particularly like) and several other of the things we saw there last Spring.

If this Greco is what Bill describes it to be—and taking his description together with what Miguel Utrillo said about it, I feel pretty sure it is—there’s no time to be lost, and if you want it we must act at once, and in any case before people start going to Spain for the Spring season.

El Greco at his highest is one of the great magicians of the world. That Assumption at Toledo, which I saw again the other day, gave me feelings which one only has on a very few occasions in one’s life (the last time was in S. SophiaHagia Sophia (Sancta Sophia), a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, built in the sixth century, in Istanbul (Constantinople). In 1453, when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II ordered the building converted into a mosque and the figural mosaics plastered over.)—and Bill says Sánchez’s picture is of that moment of El Greco’s career (the end of his life) and even finer than the Assumption. I couldn’t sleep last night, thinking about it.

R. T.

 
Associated Things: Henri Daguerre, Paris
Associated Artworks: HC.P.1936.18.(O)