Mallorca (Part VII) – Day 4: Palma, city of art
After two days of travel both Westwards along to Andratx, and Northbound along the rickety mountain pass of the Ferrocarril de Soller, we thought that it was probably about time we stayed put in Palma for once. After all, the city is close to bursting at the seams with cultural, gastronomic and historical attractions for the discerning city visitor, so it was only right that we should spend a day pursuing such pleasures (also, being that the Saturday was the one day between an almost solid block of Easter public festivals when all the museums were actually open, we thought we had better make the most of it).
I’ve already mentioned that Palma is a city which is exceptionally well-endowed with art aplenty, especially in proportion to its size. In Palma, not only do you have the temple to contemporary and modern art that is Es Baluard, but in addition there are two museums founded by the formerly super-rich March family, one by Juan March and the other by his son Bartolomé, both of which boast an impressive array of contemporary art; there are various bank-owned foundations, displaying, usually for free, their own permanent collections and temporary exhibitions; and in addition there are a spattering of privately owned art galleries and collections rising up all over Palma’s elegant historic streets.
It was to the two March centres of art that we ventured first, starting with the impressive Barbie pink, colonnaded private palace of the Bartolomé March household, the Palau March, which sits astride both the Almudaina palace and the Cathedral, thus demonstrating from its position alone just how unfathomably rich Señor March must have been.
Upon entering the palace, you arrive on an open colonnaded terrace with commanding views over the Avenida Antoni Maura and the port beyond it, views which could however be missed, such are the array of attention-grabbing contemporary sculptures on display. Amongst March’s fine collection are some of the biggest names of 20th century sculpture, from an organic, curvaceous twin structure by Barbara Hepworth, to an impressive bronze torso by Rodin. However, of the various sculptures on show, our favourite had to be the sculpture by Joan Robert Ipousteguy (Untitled, 1920), an entirely captivating piece, were an almost fused interlocked embrace of two lovers carved in a smooth rounded marble is interrupted by the odd hole or chasm, inviting the viewer to peer into the sculpture for the details which lay, almost hidden from view, inside the marble, such as the passionately intertwined tongues of the kissing lovers, to a view of a small air pocket, seemingly created in the gaps between their bodies, in which defined body parts can just about be made out. How the sculptor achieved such startling detail in the most inaccessible of places I will never know.
Having been enthralled by the sculpture on the outside, we were equally captivated in the inside of the palace, first by a vast 18th century Neopolitan nativity scene, full of fantastic details, including scenes of whole villages, shops, dwellings and landscapes asides from the main nativity scene; second by a collection of superb Dali print works, which were religiously charged throughout. Then, moving upwards through the palace, we gazed in wonder at some of the ceiling frescos which had been painted there, as recently as the 1940s. One scene in particular, in which a series of gymnasts hanging off variously sized hot air balloons were rising and falling in the illusionary airspace, was particularly original in its depiction – it certainly beats the normal scenes of cherubs and angels.
Leaving the palace, and soaking in sunshine over a cafe on a cobbled terrace beyond, we headed up through the colourful yellow and green Plaça Major, full of street performers and excitable tourists and locals alike, past Palma’s ancient olive tree, and onto the second of the March cultural foundations, this time founded, from what I can gather, by Bartolomé’s father, Juan March. His collection forms the Museum of Contemporary Spanish Art a superb collection of the Spanish greats such as Dali, Picasso and Miro as well as many lesser well-recognised names. While the collection is quite small, it’s free to see, and held within the beautiful old palace where Juan March was born.
My particular favourite of the collection was the transformation of Velazquez’s famous Las Meninas into a modern domestic scene by Spanish art duo, Equipo Cronica. As I have since discovered, this is one of many reimaginations that the duo have made of Las Meninas and other iconic Spanish works. We also thoroughly enjoyed a temporary exhibition of the work of artist Eduardo Arroyo, who through both photography and painting created a whole series of magnificent portraits, of both famous artists and personalities, and people personal to his own life. I particularly enjoyed his photographs, covered with round stickers to create a polka-dot veil, semi-obscuring the portrait, a little like Lichtenstein but taken one step further. Also particularly original and whimsical were his painted parodies of artists such as Van Gogh and Fernand Leger.
Subsequently, and I’m not entirely sure how (it’s exhausting me even describing it), we wandered into yet another art gallery following the March foundation, this time the Fundacio La Caixa, a brilliant cultural foundation run by the Caixa bank and held within the stunning modernist building which used to house Mallorca’s Gran Hotel (see my photography post tomorrow for more on Palma’s modernismo architecture). The foundation lays on various temporary exhibitions throughout the year, such as the one currently on show examining past and modern high rise buildings and towers. But my favourite aspect of the foundation is their permanent collection, and in particular the works of Mallorcan artist Anglada-Camarasa, who painted vast canvases literally alive with a plethora of vivid colours used to describe pictorially the spirit and fervour of Spanish gypsy culture, flamenco, fiestas, and Valencian costume.
Exhausted, and almost overwhelmed by the artistic capacity of what is fundamentally a small Spanish city, we lunched and rested before setting out for more of a tranquil afternoon within the shady narrow back streets of the historic core of Palma in the vicinity of the Cathedral. There, not far from the Plaça Major, we indulged in a time of contemplation in the stunningly tranquil sun-dreched cloisters of the Real Convento de San Francisco, followed by a further dalliance with history`in the nearby Arab Baths, the last surviving wholly-Moorish building in the city, and also with its own seductively serene gardens in which to enjoy the sunshine dappled through the verdant hanging palms, lush ferns and vivid pink geraniums.
The Arab baths and gardens
Finally, believing the day’s activities to be at an end, Palma pulled out yet a further artistic treasure from its magic hat of apparently ceaseless culture – the Museo Can Morey de Santmarti which holds a vast and completely impressive collection of some 200 lithographs, etchings and other prints by Salvidor Dali. And thus ending the day as we had begun it, we gazed again at the thrilling works of this Surrealist master, but this time doing so almost on our knees, such was the exhaustion of our legs after so comprehensive a day of artistic and historical discovery – a state of physical exhaustion which is clearly testament to the sheer abundance and variety of attractions on offer in this utterly compelling Mallorcan city.
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- Mallorca (Part I) – Day 1: Banoffee bienvenido back to the good life (daily-norm.com)
- Mallorca (Part II) – Photography Focus 1: Semana Santa (daily-norm.com)
- Mallorca (Part III) – Day 2: Port d’Andratx and Es Baluard (daily-norm.com)
- Mallorca (Part IV) – Food Focus 1: Forn de Sant Joan (daily-norm.com)
- Mallorca (Part V) – Day 3: Moorish Mallorca and the Sóller Ferrocarril (daily-norm.com)
- Mallorca (Part VI) – Food Focus 2: Simply Fosh (daily-norm.com)