Art and travel was always in Vincent Price’s blood. As a teenager in the late-1920s, Vincent longed to see those works of European art he had only ever seen in books. It was during his junior year (at Country Day in St Louis, Missouri) that he sent away for travel brochures and decided on Tour 22, covering the Seven Capitals of Europe.
‘Whoever wrote the propaganda for Tour 22 had written just for me,’ says Vincent, in Victoria Price’s biography [•] of her father. ‘The sights which would be covered were my dreams come true. Where other tours included famous battlefields and natural phenomena, likes rocks which look like ladies fast asleep, Tour 22 was heavy on the churches and museums, with just enough enticing treats to mysteries like the Catacombs outside Rome and castles like Chillon’.
Vincent saved furiously for his European excursion, but it was the sale of his family’s Canadian summer home that finally sealed the deal. On the 4th of July 1928, Vincent’s parents took the 17-year-old to New York, where they watched their son set sail alone two days later.
Following a seven-day crossing to Plymouth, Vincent’s group toured London, Stratford upon Avon, Warwick and Windsor before crossing the Channel to the Netherlands to visit Marken, Vollendam and Amsterdam (where Vincent finally got his chance to see Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and The Anatomy Lesson).
Tour 22 then traveled through Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, with Germany making the biggest impression on the teenager. Up next came Italy and its amazing art. First stop was Milan, and its famed cathedral. The group then moved on to Venice – the tour’s first disappointment for Vincent. A photograph of Vincent with his friends Lucy, Helen and Elizabeth shows them in front of the cathedral surrounded by St Mark’s Square’s famed pigeons (see our banner above). The fashion of the day was for women to wear long sleeves and cloche hats, while men to wear a suit and tie. Given it was the height of summer, those clothes must have been mighty uncomfortable by today’s standards?
After seeing the master works of Titian, an artist Vincent greatly admired, the next stop on his art hit list was Florence. Leaving Venice early, Vincent headed out in search of a work of art for his parents and bought a small bronze fountain figure for US$25. But the cost of displaying it would end up costing his parents US$600, plus two years labor and the death of some 25 prized goldfish.
After two days in Florence, taking in the city’s amazing sites like the Uffizi Gallery, it was off to Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi coast and Capri, before heading to Rome – a city that Vincent fell in love with. So much so, he pasted into his journal the tour itinerary and crammed it with detailed notes of everything he saw: from the Sistine Chapel to the Forum of Trajan where ‘eighty-five cats now live’.
With 10 days of the tour remaining, the group took in Pisa and Genoa in Italy and Nice in France. Finally, it was on to Paris, with scheduled tours of Versailles, the cathedral at Reims, and the battlefields of World War I. It was during his three days in Paris that Vincent took in the city’s amazing nightlife and purchased three small etchings for a mere six centimes (who knows how much they would be worth now)?
On August 25 1928, Vincent boarded the Tuscania for New York. The eight-day return crossing was rough and left everyone seasick, except those with ‘cast-iron stomachs’ like Vincent. On the back flyleaf of his journal, next to a map of the world, Vincent wrote: ‘I would that this map could determine only a small part of my voyages, that I might explore into unknown place.’ To quote, once more, from Victoria’s biography, ‘The St Louis teenager’s transformation into international sophisticate had begun…’
[•] Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography by Victoria Price, St Martin’s Press, 1999