Luis Quintanilla’s letter to Ernest Hemingway -CD

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the story

Luis Quintanilla’s letter to Ernest Hemingway -CD

Luis Quintanilla’s letter to Ernest Hemingway is a gem, highlighting a moment in time in which the esteemed Spanish artist was in a transitory period as a recent immigrant to New York. Like many Spanish immigrants coming to the United States during the early 20th century, Quintanilla expresses both the fear and awe he felt towards the new community he inhabited. The letter was an attempt by Quintanilla to have Ernest Hemingway support his artwork with Hemingway’s literary force. Quintanilla asks Hemingway for permission for him to dedicate his upcoming art series to the famed author,“akin to the XVI and XVII artist who would launch works of art under the moral protection of a great gentleman who would permit the dedication” in which Quintanilla offers the example of Cervantes doing so with Don Quixote. Quintanilla goes on to explain his exhibition, which consisted of “Two phases of [his] life diametrically opposed”: The Spanish war, and life in America.
Quintanilla explains that his exile from Spain and new life in New York took a toll on his well being, as he “Arrived here sad and demoralized.”He goes on to explain how the sights and sounds of America have begun to rejuvenate him, and on how “In Fourteenth Street I saw a spiritual world, full of inner life. Certainly abandoned poets who pass the day contemplating a corner or delicately offering a cake of chewing gum. And what tones of color their worn garments have; also poetized by the years!”
The letter can be read in full below:

An Open Letter to Ernest Hemingway – 1939

(I think this may have been translated from the Spanish by my mother.)

“Dear Ernesto… ” 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.

“My exhibition, Ernesto, includes two phases of my life diametrically opposed, although I painted them without interruption in time. The first consists of five frescoes of the Spanish war, that horrible spectacle which you also saw and commented on before the indifference of the world. The second is American life.

“I arrived here sad and demoralized. I didn’t know whether I should commit suicide or get married, which is to prolong life; I married. I didn’t know whether to take to alcohol or to work, and I worked. Little by little I took from my palette the bitter memories of Spain, and by dint of brush strokes came to feel myself an individual again and to love colors as old friends who for a long time had been forgotten; during three years I had not painted. Instead of making pictures I had been obliged to make history. So has been my fate. One time jail, another time war, and it can’t be doubted that I should have preferred to paint odalisques in the sun of the Blue Coast.

“The frescoes have no bitterness, I think, just as they have not the grandiloquence of the bellicose spirit. They are humble and if in them there is ideological sin, it is in the moralistic ingenuousness of saying: love peace and hate war. Painting them soothed my pain, and each time I felt a harmony of color or a quality of material I felt more myself and remembered the pleasant moments when I worked on other frescoes, in Madrid, with the same purpose of seeking harmonies and qualities which, if I found them, have disappeared because the war has destroyed them.

“Upon finishing the frescoes my eyes, tranquil now, could see America, and America I have set about painting. I began these American paintings with the transition from old Spain to this young world. And it happened that from Brooklyn came to my studio Sidney Franklin, and the studio was flooded with reds, greens, and golds, memories of Andalusia. 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.

“Afterwards, I went into the streets of New York, and in Fourteenth Street I saw a spiritual world, full of inner life. Certainly abandoned poets who pass the day contemplating a corner or delicately offering a cake of chewing gum. And what tones of color their worn garments have; also poetized by the years!

“Then ladies of society, a little negress, much good humor, and other smiling things you’ll find hung on the wall. These have been the different moods with which I have realized the work we are exhibiting. Like you, I have said a farewell to arms; but my farewell was not to arms only. I have said goodbye to many other things. America has rejuvenated me, and pretty light of baggage I am beginning a new life and a new work. Between all the stupidity that is dominating the world, so much decadence of moral values, so much ideological gloom, I, like the snail, wish to close myself in the shell of my work, and in compensation make a gay art, an art that brightens existence as a toy entertains a child, and if the child breaks it – well, it is of no importance.

“As to the rest, you already know my artistic ideas, and if someone questions me, I shall answer, with the characteristic simplicity of painters, that I believe only in good painting. Abstract of concrete, with ismo or without ismo, come from where it might and go where it will. Already in my life I have seen so many aesthetic burials, and I myself have assisted at my own funeral, that I distrust the labels. Art is so exacting that it needs something of yesterday, of today, and of tomorrow in order to arrive at being art. Even though they bring a card of introduction from the idiotic Fray Angelico (le pompier par excellence), or from the great superabundant Fifi Fauve (this Fifi is a genial painter whom nobody knows because he has not yet been invented) I go on believing in nothing more than good painting. And what is good painting? We shall leave it to Elliot Paul to explain. You know that in other times we wanted to make Elliot governor of the Island of Ibiza, not because he had written a great book on the life and death of that town, which in those days was still far from the drama which motivated his work, but because he wished to free those enchanting islands from tourist idiocy and cut the entrance of the sexual artistic snobbishness which produces nothing and defiles everything. Elliot is the inventor of a filtering apparatus, and only he knows how to handle it. The great Elliot places his apparatus a little higher than his beard and before it pass the people. Each time the apparatus produces a tumult of noises, similar to physiological noises, there has passed before the apparatus someone who wishes to deceive us by presenting himself as poet, artist, statesman, writer, researcher, or simply as an honest man. May I be the first in America to pass before the apparatus of Elliot.

“Many remembrances to yours, and a strong embrace from your old friend, Luis Quintanilla.”