ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
© All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe 2015-16  All artworks copyright the estate of the artist.

biography

francesc d’assís galí: “i palpitates with joy” Francesc d’Assís Galí, (1880-1965) also known as Francesc d’Assís Galí Fabra, and with variant spellings, was a Spanish artist and politician. He had been a leading light in “Noucentisme”, a conservative Catalan cultural movement of the early 20th century that was opposed to Modernism and whose members also tended to support Catalan independence. He became increasingly engaged in politics and served as the Republic's Minister for Fine Art before resigning and fleeing to England in 1939 supported by the Artists' Refugee Committee. Emotionally, artistically and geographically, his world had turned inside out. Once in London he resumed painting. Almost immediately, his style changed dramatically, from the classical to the fantastic and the dreamlike. His works now had titles such as With Love; Romantic Love and Platonic Love. He was also writing strange, flamboyant, letters to Colquhoun, some in French and some in fractured English. (1) Mercadé (2) believes the two to be connected and that they are love letters. He goes so far as to suggest that Colquhoun was his lover: he may well be right, but it is not clear cut. For example, how far is the wording and the apparent lack of reserve due to cultural differences or language difficulties? To Ithell Q A letter stands for a word sometimes. You are happy. I rejoices at your good fortune. I have pondered upon that and I palpitates with joy. Look about you. discriminate between right and wrong Love from Francis One may be inclined to discount some of the imagery and floweriness as attempts to write surrealist prose poems, but bearing in mind that they were written by a sixty year old father of eight to a single woman in her thirties, they are undoubtedly disinhibited: To Ithell my love You arrived, yesterday, on a piece of dawn at sunset. Yes, I saw you with my eyes filled with blinding sand. You were suspended like a face between the purple river and the sleeping meadows. You arrived like a powder cloud of flowers and lights, on a bicycle of roses. I have seen you dressed with nudity, the glossy ochre of the Venus of Botticelli. Your curly hair, the blue of the skies. Next to you, Nelson’s column was the height of a twig. You give drops of light from your pearly stomach to the pigeons of Trafalgar Square. …. I have received your letter, a song in the dark. The dead leaf returns to the tree. The moon, broken in the deep mirror of the tears of my agitated soul, has become a dark disk plunged into the calm pond of experience. love, love, love Francis Gali For a period he was writing every day, but there are also long gaps. For example, he sympathised with the death of her father, which occurred in September 1942, but did not write until the following February. There are times when he seems fearful: At present I haven’t the courage to go to you. I hope shall be able to do it soon.  and again: I came as far as your house, with the heavy weight of my remorse on my back and bloody knees. I was so close that I brushed your life. I inhaled your perfume, I caressed your insides, but I could not make my hands open the door. … I returned home with life broken with believing that your words were waiting for me. Empty nothing watches me with eyes like blackthorns. The fact that she married (and divorced) during this period  seems to have made little difference: you will eternally be the daughter of the sea, and nothing and nobody will be able to put off the sea’s star soldered in your heart, not the greenish submarine light streaming, stainless, from your front saturated of jasmines and smelling of musk, nor your lofty hair moist for ever with sea’s water….Though I haven’t had the pleasure of become acquainted with your husband, I offer him my friendship, for having you chosen him. In the end, it becomes a test of the reader’s ingenuity and powers of invention, rather than an assessment of the known facts, to determine what actually occurred between them. We have only one side of the correspondence and do not know Colquhoun’s perspective. Did she feel flattered? Did she encourage him? Over forty florid letters over the course of six years do not suggest indifference towards him. His attention must have filled an emotional need; one that her psychotherapist, Alice Buck, felt required examination: What are you carrying forward from the past? Maybe it is an attitude of father’s or something like that you are carrying forward. Your Spanish friend may well be a carrier of the quality and he will therefore act as a link and help you to remember if you think around him…. I think. In fact, you may have been attracted towards him, because you felt he had a key to some part of yourself, i.e. you were more complete with him …it is not too good to want someone’s company in such circumstances because they are carrying a bit of one’s own unconscious. (3) As with Humfry Payne, it seems her ardour was tidal. It must have been ebbing when Gali wrote this: But you came late to the world of men, and the battle is unequal, merciless, and I am stunned by the sadness and pain that your presence ignites. I noticed only that my Ithell was naive, gentle, beautiful, highly adorable, but I also knew the wrath of avoidance. And now I am dying of sadness. I have your letter in my eyes, every letter in my guts, your sweetness in your eyes, but I would have loved to find the words that I searched for in vain “Come back, darling, I am waiting for you.” He returned to Barcelona in 1949. Notes 1.  How they met is not known, but it may have been through the art historian and gallery owner Ewan Phillips, with whom Galí lived during his first months in England. Both Phillips and Colquhoun lived in Hampstead and so were near neighbours as well as being part of the local artistic community. The letters from Gali to Colquhoun are in the Tate archive at TGA 929/1/707-756. The majority are undated, and the sequence cannot be established with confidence. 2. Albert Mercadé “Francesc d’Assís Galí, la dècada negada (1939-1949)” Quadern, Oct/Nov 2013, 13 – 16. Available online at dialnet.unirioja.es/descarga/articulo/4735401.pdf 3. The letter, dated May 1952, is at [TGA 929/1/236. Alice Buck (1908-1999), a Jungian psychotherapist, dream and ESP researcher, first appeared in the Medical Register in 1944. Between 1982 and 1989 she was a regular contributor to the Journal of Religion and Psychical Research, writing a series of papers on the evolution and function of the dream and on the child and the child archetype in a nuclear age. Later in life she studied divinity. She did not take Holy Orders but entered a retreat and became Sister Alice Emily.
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