On the 5th of September 1928, a young 17-year-old Vincent Price arrived back in St Louis, Missouri following a two-month tour of Europe, where he got to lay his eyes of the classic masterpieces of the artists he so admired for the very first time, and explored the sights and the amazing nightlife of places like Monte Carlo and Paris with his fellow travelling companions. You can read all his adventures now from the start, by following the link below (or clicking on the photo).
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 recalls the high point of his 1928 European tour: Florence…
ON SEEING FLORENCE FOR THE FIRST TIME
‘Florence! This was to be the high point of the whole tour. Arriving alone at dawn, I’ll never regret or forget. I had a light suitcase, so I decided to walk to the hotel, which was not next to the station for once, but on the Arno itself. Oh, God… what a city. How beautiful, how clean, how shining, how romantic. I walked along, clearing the garlic out of my lungs (1) and letting my eyes feast on the city. Then suddenly I rounded a corner, and there it was… the Duomo, Giotto’s Tower… and the doors… the doors to heaven, surely, Giotto, Ghiberti, Donatello, Brunelleschi – thank you!’
‘I remember that I was indeed alone when, around another corner I came one the great square, the Signoria, the Loggia, and the Uffizi. There, across the way, I saw “David”, gleaming in white marble. I didn’t’ know, or care, that it was a copy. It was Michelangelo’s first hell to me, and I answered back – openmouthed – and then “Perseus”, Cellini’s boy with the Gorgon’s head, and around the base those lovely little nudes.’
‘The hotel people spoke English, and being the first of our tour to arrive, I got a wonderful room with a little balcony – around the corner of which I could see the Arno and across from which I could look into what surely must have been Lorenzo the Magnificient’s home. Of course, it wasn’t. But it was a palace, and so romantic I couldn’t believe my eyes.’
‘What did I want to see first? What did I want to see alone? Through what glorious door would I make my first real entrance into the Renaissance? Should I go say a prayer in the Duomo or go up and survey the whole city from the Piazzale Michelangelo? I suddenly remembered I had a friend in Florence – Andrea del Sarto – dead a good many years but very much alive to me since he first introduced himself in our minister’s house at home through his “Madonna of the Harpies”. Now, where did she live?… The Uffizi!… There I would start my journey; there I would say hello to an old friend and meet some new ones.’
THE UFFIZI AND FLOODING UP OVER DEL SARTO’S MADONNA
‘Florence!… The Duomo!… The Uffizi!… These words, names, places are exclamation marks in themselves… you have to put dots of wordless wonder after each one. There is noting else to say. The Uffizi!…’
‘Has anyone ever gone through those doors, blasé, disgusted, bored and not been lifted – ‘sent’ – immolated – within a matter of moments? I haven’t been there for twenty seven years, but I’m ‘sent, just remembering it… sent into the greatest world of art, sent back into a civilization of art and excitement that has never had an equal.’
‘First off, in the Uffizi I met a portraitist who let me look, through his eyes, into the eyes of the people of the past: Bronzino. There they are. The Medici, the men, the children, and the beautiful Eleanor of Toledo, in a gown so sumptuous she had herself painted in it – and buried in it. Bronzino is not a deep, psychological portrait painter, but his pictures are true memorials to his sitters. If you want the future to remember what you look like, dig up Bronzino and have him ‘ do’ you!… Hard, crisp, elegant, real – descriptive of his sitters and of his portraits of them.’
‘I was in the flood. I was drowning in the world of art. I was sailing on a shell with Venus. I was a witness to the Holy Family… And then, suddenly, I came upon a room… and there she was. My own personal Madonna.’
‘I know now that del Sarto was not the greatest painter – far from Browning’s ‘perfect painter’. I know he was soft, overblown… I know that in the lists of greatness, he’s nowhere near the top… but there she was! Oh beautiful, serene, soft-eyed, and glamorous – she’s not the Virgin Mother, not the Woman of Sorrows – she’s the Queen of Goddesses, a woman to worship as a woman. She is beautiful, and she’s in love with all mankind. Especially with me.’
‘Only three things have ever caused me to weep, for beauty’s sake or for art’s sake: the Madonna of Andrea del Sarto, the first time I saw John Gielgud’s play Hamlet in London, and Kirsten Flagstad’s Isolde. I’m always open to let them flood again, but for my tear ducts it’s apparently got to be a special thing to make them flood… and anyway, I hate it. It hurts and makes me embarrassed, even if I’m alone.’
‘And there I was, standing in the Uffizi with a watermelon in my throat and two painful jets of warm salt water spurting out of me eyes. At that moment the whole world could have walked into that gallery, and I wouldn’t have been able to cover up. Then I heard a soft voice, over my shoulder, say: “Come over here, I’ll show you the one that makes me cry.”
‘I blew my nose, blotted my eyes, buried as much of my face as I could in my handkerchief, and blurted out a feeble: “Sorry… something in my eye.” ‘
‘The voice said: “Yes… beauty”.’
‘It belonged to a woman who must have been the mother of my Madonna, a lovely, comfortable, middle-aged Saint Anne. She took me firmly by the arm, led me out of the room and down the hall, and brought me up, still, in front of one of the most beautiful little pictures of all time: the “Annunciation” by Leonardo da Vinci.’
‘”That’s the one that makes me cry,” she said. I looked at it for a long time, and when I turned around to thank her, she was gone. Secretly, I was glad I didn’t have to thank her, but I always will be grateful for the knowledge that someone else could behave juts as cornily as I did.’
THE PONTE VECCHIO AND THE FLORENTINE FOUNTAIN SAGA
‘I had saved a small amount with which to buy Mother and Dad a present, and Florence would get that money, my economic chauvinism stemming from gratitude for its being so beautiful. And I was determined to get it on the Ponte Vecchio. I shopped and thought of silver, of leather, of everything sold on that bridge, but nothing really said ‘buy me’. Back and forth I searched and finally found it… a little bronze fountain figure. Twenty five dollars. He was a cutie, holding a fish out of which the water squirted. There are hundreds of figures like this, but I’d never seen them, and somehow I felt sure that the shopkeeper’s information about its being modern was just to spoof me – that this was an original Donatello-Verrocchio, undiscovered until now by me!’
‘I bought it, lugged it to a packer, sent it home via collect freight and sighed with delight that I had found a treasure in Florence and that my parents would have it forever – in the Middle West of America.’
‘They received it in good order. The collect freight was sixty dollars. Then my father was forced into building a pool for it to fountain into. This cost two hundred and fifty dollars. The entire family spent two years, dragging rocks back from the Ozarks, to make the surrounding rock garden. The final blow came when Mother decided to import three hundred and fifty dollars worth of rare bulbs from Holland to set the whole thing off, and as a background two mature willow trees were brought in, employing six workmen for three days. Then I decided, with Mother’s permission, to grow water lilies. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that they must be planted in rich, preferably, cow manure – under the water. This murky operation caused the death of twenty-five high priced, fan-tailed goldfish and yearly saw me up to my armpits in fresh cow dung, having spent the two previous days catching the replaced goldfish, who multiplied over the years to a final count of three hundred and two. Some years later, after the death of my parents, I decided I must keep the Florentine fountain. I dislodged it from its Million Dollar Park to send it to California, where once again a pool had to be built for it and flowers planted, and to date only two sad goldfish have survived to revel in the splashing waters.’
(1) Although his mother put garlic in every dish in the Price household, Vincent found the smell of it in his air-tight third class carriage, which he shared that previous day with four Italians munching on a 50 variety sausage meal, too much to bear. According to his diary, he passed out on the fumes.
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.
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…
‘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?’
‘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.’
‘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.
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…
‘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.’
‘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.’
ON 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!’
In 1959, Vincent Price recounted his life-long passion for the art world in I Like What I Know. Here now are some extracts from Price’s visual autobiography, in which a 48-year-old Price reflects back on his stay in London in July 1928…
‘London, the life of England. It is impressive that this little land contains the world’s greatest city, and it is equally impressive that its citizens have brought so much beauty into the welter of their poverty of space.’
‘I took London on like the biggest hick ever to hit a big city. Much as I wanted to see everything on our schedule, I decided one day, with permission, to forego another Christopher Wren church and head straight for my ultimate London goal on my own.’
ON THE BRITISH MUSEUM
‘There is really only one mysterious museum in the world: the British Museum. Nothing can touch it for clutter, for atmosphere, for gravity of purpose, that purpose being to collect civilization complete, under one roof. The past pops up around you as though it had sought refuge from the present. Secretively, crouching in every corner, treasures await discovery.
‘If the British didn’t succeed in colonizing the world, they succeeded in preserving it here. And if it is true that they are the most civilized people on the face of the earth, their source of inspiration – the sun from which they take their shine and polish – orbits here. It is the home of discovery, the Rosetta Stone, that key to conversation; the doors, lintels, pylons, caryatids, architraves, tympana, all the supports of our ultimate necessity – the roof over our heads. Here they all are.’
ON THE ELGIN MARBLES
‘If the ravages of British conquests, such as Benin, sometimes shock us, the spoils as gathered here can only delight us, for what sensitive souls who feel the Elgin Marbles would be better off in Athens should remember those centuries of neglect of the Parthenon, when it was a powderhouse and all the samplers of the past picked its anatomy apart so that heads, hands, and bodies are irretrievably separated.’
ON THE PORTLAND VASE
‘With Mademoiselle snapping at our heels to “to get on with it”, my hurried opinion of that other masterpiece in the British Museum, the Portland Vase, was that it looked like a reproduction by Wedgewood. And its importance escaped me to the point almost of condoning the maniac who, years before had hurled a brick at it.’
ON MISSING THE NATIONAL GALLERY
‘When you are doing seven capitals in seven weeks, you don’t see very much of everything, and being with a group, you do as they do. So the British Museum was the only museum considered a ‘must’ in our three days. The National Gallery, which I lived in later on (on another trip), I’d have to wait to see then. We had to eat, sleep, see the zoo, the Square, and Piccadilly. So all we could assume, jumping from one bus to another and walking endless miles of London streets, was that London was certainly the biggest city, that the British were intolerantly tolerant of American tourists, and that I, for one, wanted to come back.’
In 1959, Vincent Price recounted his life-long passion for the art world in I Like What I Know. Here now are some extracts from Price’s visual autobiography, in which a 48-year-old Price reflects back on heading to Europe in July 1928.
ON TOUR 22
‘Europe at seventeen! How or why my parents ever got up the courage to let me go to Europe alone at seventeen, I’ll never know. One reason might have been that the sight of another travel folder could well have snapped their minds. Secondly, I was six feet one and growing fast. A third possibility was s that my four years of constant curiosity and questions about the rest of the world ha run them out of answers. But the most likely reason was my grandmother. As the youngest of her four grandchildren, I had become delightfully and enrichingly close to her. This frosted beauty lived with us more and more, as the limitations of age gradually prohibited her wandering to warmth in Florida and California – or just taking off for the then more economical countries across the sea, as she had always adored to do on her limited income. In addition to my basic love for her, we had a rapport regarding said countries across the sea, little lopsided, to be sure, since it was comprised of endless queries from me and patiently understanding answers from her. That’s why I say she was a likely reason for my departure.
‘For reasons, which escape me, Father decided to sell our summer home, and from the sale, he put a modest sum aside for each of us to use as we would use it. He might as well have bought the boat passage for me, then and there, and saved a transfer of this generous gift. Mine went, with their immediate permission, toward Tour 22… Seven Capitals of Europe, Tour 22. I studied all the twenty-four in the folder, but it was 22, which covered most. Whoever wrote the propaganda for Tour 22 had written it just for me. The sights, which would be covered where my dreams come true. Where other tours included famous battlefields and natural phenomenon, like 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.’
ON THE CROSSING
‘I sailed in mid-June at midnight on an old Cunarder. My cabin mate, also on Tour 22, was a youngish man, with the air of a fugitive from the future. I later discovered this was true. Perhaps Pat Frank knew what life wherever he came from was to be, so he left it to se what he could of the world before the ax of incarcerating responsibility cut him down. I’ve often wondered if this trip turned him into the successful novelist he is today. It was great that night, sailing from New York, and while I knew Tour 22 had other members, I would meet next day, that night I was Columbus, vice versa, Marco Polo, young Leonardo – going to see the wonders of the world. I stood on the upper deck like the seagoing hero in the last scene of a movie, with hair awing, watching the magic city disappear as the long gray valleys of the open ocean took us in. The world was not yet “too much with me, late and soon, getting or spending” to lay waste my powers of imagination. I was fully aware of the opportunities of this adventure – half equipped to meet them perhaps – but certain I would stand on this same deck ten weeks later, better than half equipped to meet the world and introduce myself to it, to live and love it. I slept that night like some enchanted creature, waiting to be awakened by a magic word.’
‘The morning came, a morning made to celebrate the creation of the world, the thrill of a ship, the ecstasy of the sea, along with breakfast and the assemblage of Tour 22, a lovely group… ladies of all ages, accents, costumes, and, with all the world of ladies, one thing in common – that ugliest of headgear, the suffocating cloche; that hat which, in the twenties, turned females into warriors of old, cut the chance of conversation right in half, and leveled noble brows to idiocy. The men were standard, in plus fours, slacks, and caps, if not in age. The ranged from my sixteen to eighty-four. But, male and female, boy and girl, we had a purpose and a goal… Europe.’
‘Our keepers were two divergent characters, a professional tour master and ‘Mademoiselle’, a French schoolteacher with barracuda teeth and the most foreign accent real or otherwise, I’d ever heard. We reviewed the tour, made friends, and settled down to enjoy the balmy crossing.’
‘I loved the ocean, loved the ship, and enjoyed the sense of being on my own. But the moment when my foot touched England’s shore… that, I was positive, was the ultimate – the Moment of Truth!… I had arrived in Europe… and in life!’
DID YOU KNOW?
In 1956, Vincent’s one-time cabin mate Pat Frank had his 1956 Cold War thriller novel Forbidden Area, adapted for the debut episode of the anthology series, Playhouse 90, and Vincent starred in it alongside Charlton Heston and Tab Hunter.