Vincent Price on Titian, Tintoretto, cheap hotels and St Mark’s Square in Venice

I Like What I Know (1959)In 1959, Vincent Price recounted his life-long passion for the art world in I Like What I Know. Here are some extracts from Price’s visual autobiography, in which a 48-year-old Price reflects back on his two-day stay in Venice in August, 1928…

ON REACHING VENICE
‘On our itinerary Tour 22 offered no diamond in its glamorous array to touch the hope of Italy. If you’re in love with art, the honeymoon is there. All other art seems distant and a little strange without the eyes of Italy to see it through. You may have scattered affairs with other arts – deep passions, even – but the golden wedding partner is waiting for you at home in Italy.’

‘The moment came. We tool the train to Venice. Continents of natural beauties lay between: the Dolomites, the mountains, lakes, lovely towns. But dreams of Venice blinded me, and I’ll never forget, for all this poetic dreaming, the force with which the squalor of Venice hit me. On a tour like ours – so cheap, so all-inclusive – the economy was hotels. In any language, we found ourselves at the Hotel du Gare… next door to the station. This was an easy way to keep us all together, and to get us off for the next place. For comfort, nothing could compare to them. They had none. The food was miserable, the beds were hard, and the baths so involved and tepid that you almost preferred to stay dirty. But I must say they were good places with which to compare the rest of the surroundings! Almost anything looked glorious, in comparison. All over Europe they were the same – especially in color. Soot. Brown.’

‘Venice, from the station hotel, could be Hoboken with wet pavements. Arriving as we did in the dead of night, one had the suspicion that the advertised beauties of this gem of the Adriatic were elsewhere. Maybe another fourteen-hour train trip away?… Even the Venetian morning light lent little glamour to the scene around the station. You could only hope that such glamorous items such as gondolas did exist, since only some shabby, high-prowed canoes were anchored in front.’

ON ST MARK’S SQUARE
‘Sure enough, Venice did exist. We cruised down the Grand Canal and there was the Rialto, the ‘business end’ of Venus, as some wag had put it. And farther on, the canal became wider and we could see the domes of St Mark’s and the campanile, pointing above everything to that incredible blue sky.’

‘What a wonderful square that is, St Mark’s… and those damned pigeons… and those four glorious horses, prancing on the balcony; then, of course, St Mark’s lion, high on his column, looking back – keeping his eye of the pigeons. The Palace of the Doges and the Bridge of Sighs, and once again the feeling of loss that those glamorous barbarians had moved away, and other times (even if for the better) had forever exiled the pageantry of nobility.’

ON TITIAN AND TINTORETTO
‘There were two painters on the grand scale who knocked one down: Titian and, again, Tintoretto. Guardi and Canaletto certainly tell us the everyday story of their day in Venice, but Titian, in those majestic portraits, and Tintoretto, in his attempt to populate the Doges Palace with the Heavenly Host itself – sacred and profane – they were the genuine echoes of the glorious past. And Tintoretto had another quality that was almost his alone: he could paint flight. He could make a human being soar through the air, light as a bird, light as light.’

ON LEAVING VENICE IN A HURRY
‘Vence was almost too much for a sixteen-year-old, falling in love with art, and the hotel by the station, on the sewer canal, was altogether too much. So I got permission to leave the tour and go to Florence a day ahead of schedule. I took the night train alone, and naturally. I went third class…’

Find out what happened next, tomorrow.

 

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Vincent Price on Flanders Field, Nuremberg and Dürer’s Praying Hands

I Like What I Know (1959)In 1959, Vincent Price recounted his life-long passion for the art world in I Like What I Know. Here are some extracts from Price’s visual autobiography, in which the 48-year-old actor looks back at his visit to Belgium and Germany in July 1928…

ON BELGIUM
‘We drove to Belgium in a bus. We saw the trenches and the rows of crosses in Flanders fields, so peaceful now. But I could sense the anguish in the people, still – and two of our Tour 22 requested that we visit at the graveyard of their son – at least, they thought it was the graveyard – I was brought up short by the individuality of war. I had been too young to remember much of World War I, except the flags, food restrictions, saving tin foil, and the gaiety of the armistice. But these two people, standing at the gateway to the graves with heads bowed, their secret silent in themselves, I wouldn’t forget. In Brussels we were burdened with only one work of art: a famous statue of a little boy. Everyone knows the feeling, but why make a monument to it?’

ON COLOGNE
‘Three weeks of intense sightseeing had passed, and the next two countries were considered sport: Germany and Switzerland. While this book is to be mostly a visual experience, I must honestly say that we ate more than we saw in these two countries.’

‘Cologne was impressive, and its cathedral made me realize how minutely we Americans had achieved Gothic opulence in our assimilation of that great architectural tradition. We’ve never been able to make such forests of stone, and the nave in Cologne seems as if it could contain the Woolworth Building. Those opening vaults, reaching the roof and branching away to a solid interlacing of foliage, expand the mind to think of their conception. The fact that this cathedral was in the process of being built for a thousand years (and was only completed in the last century) tempts us to accept its vastness almost as though it had a mind of its own and knew the world would increase in population, if not in faith, and could put its enormity to good use. It stands there, symbolic of the unaccepted open-armedness of faith.’

ON NUREMBERG
‘We didn’t go to Berlin. Very few Americans did then, because the Berliners apparently were having a rather vulgar recovery from the ravages of war. But we did go to Nuremberg, thank God. If I had never seen this city, or could only see it later – pastures of rubble – I would have missed the realization of the German Renaissance and the fact that it’s from that Renaissance that we inherit so many moments of our modern life. Dürer, above all… and Luther, Cranach, our love of etchings, the invention of the printed book… a hundred things. The city itself is pure romance – the walls, towers, lovely churches, houses that have changed nothing but the inhabitants – and Dürer’s house where, as far as I’m concerned, he lives still.

ON DURER AND THE PRAYING HANDS
For me, Dürer is one of the few supreme artists, not only because of his incomparable skill, but because of his aliveness. As Rembrandt was alive to men, Dürer was alive to nature. He is an exciting painter, though not the greatest. He is the master engraver, not the most profound. But when he looks at nature, when he draws from nature, no man extracts the essence more.

You can fall in love with Dürer and his art more readily and more completely than with most, but if the sheer beauty of ‘The Praying Hands’ seems enough to most people, it is when you know what they are praying for that you really understand his genius. These hands are in supplication, that you may see him through to the complete communion he achieved with nature and natural life. See how he parts the grasses to explore the roots, and parts the roots to probe the sod, then discovers in the sod the roots of life itself.

 

 

Vincent Price on Holland, Rembrandt and scoring with a toothsome blonde

I Like What I Know (1959)In 1959, Vincent Price recounted his life-long passion for the art world in I Like What I Know. Here are some extracts from Price’s visual autobiography, in which a 48-year-old Vincent reflects back on his time in The Netherlands in July 1928…

ON HOLLAND
‘Holland was so damned quaint my feet began to hurt. The thought of wearing wooden shoes, even through fields of daffodils, gave me such psychosomatic corns I could hardly walk. And walk we had to… through endless villages and towns… seeing the sights. I understand the sea is a constant threat to Holland, but there were moments, then, when I wished that boy pulled his finger out of the dike.’

ON REMBRANDT
‘Amsterdam, however, was another thing. A city of canals and homey houses, clean and lean, lined up like neat children to admire their reflection in the polished streams. And there was Rembrandt. He was the first artist I had ever known personally – being the private owner of one of his etchings in its first state – so when we visited the Rijksmuseum, I lost myself from the rest of the tour to wander, stunned by these magnificently dramatic visions of mankind.’

‘There is in any collection of an artist’s work the sense that the painter himself is there, giving you a personally conducted tour of his pictures. But with Rembrandt he is really there in those superb self-portraits. I think the truth of the greatest proverb: ‘To know yourself’ must have appealed to Rembrandt more than to any other artist. There is absolute truth in Rembrandt’s approach to each of his sitters.’

‘In Apollo, the ‘Night Watch’ is the size of a special-delivery stamp; the ‘Anatomy Lesson’ is an airmail and the ‘Syndics’ has more people in it than a commemoration stamp. So, when I came upon these masterpieces in actuality, it was the size which brought me to a halt – the fact that people were life sized and lifelike, at the same time, was almost too much to take.’

Jan van HuysumON DUTCH INTERIORS
‘And here in the Rijksmuseum I entered for the first time the serenity of Dutch interiors, helped by the hands of Vermeer, de Hooch, and Terborch. I never did get to see a real Dutch interior, but I didn’t need to. Through these masters I was let inside, in the sunlight, in the gleaming miracle of light they alone could achieve. I touched the surfaces and smelled the flowers in these monuments to realities. I shared a dewdrop with the thirsty flies Jan van Huysum populates his flower bouquets with. I was startled for a moment by a daring dead-blue Christ of Hugo van der Goes but overcome by Rembrandt and Vermeer. I had no room to taste these Flemish masters of the early Renaissance, but I caught a glimpse of those red-eyed virgins, weeping at the spectacle of mankind crucified, that haunts me to this day.’

ON RUBENS AND THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES
‘Rubens remained an enigma. Those massive, livid mansions of crude flesh were too high a protein diet for my forming appetite. And even Hals, for all his virtuosity, his happy nature, and his presto style, escaped me then.’

‘I took on a toothsome blonde, the only contemporary appetizer on Tour 22, and determine to explore, firsthand, what Rubens had reveled in: the flesh! This girl, with a lovely, semi-southern accent, was the only one of the ten assorted ladies on our tour anywhere near my age, yet there was a decent difference in her favor and, I felt, in mine, for I hoped she’d lead me to the garden of delights and crown my young years with conquest. I tried hard, God knows, and she almost complied, but it would have to be a night in Nice, some weeks later, before my quest was satisfied. After all, a love of art is a fine thing for a young boy, but art is long – and life can be pretty damned long too, without our just desserts!’