Rubén Darío, Santiago Rusiñol and Valldemossa
History is full of legendary meetings that could have occurred but did not, of failed possibilities simply because life is not always how we would like it to be. Two of the people who were most enamoured of Mallorca and, in particular, of the Serra de Tramuntana, were Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío (1867-1916) and Catalan painter and writer Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931). Contemporaries of each other, they both belonged to the same movement for literary and artistic renewal, Modernism; they both spent long periods in Mallorca, even staying in the same house at different times; and they had Mallorcan friends in common, but they never met on the island. In fact, their last meeting took place in Barcelona on January 12th 1914, after Darío hastily left the island on December 27th 1913. It was at a dinner, organized as a tribute to Rusiñol, where Rubén Darío unexpectedly turned up. Rusiñol made him sit at his side and Darío recited a quatrain that he had composed for the occasion: "¡Gloria al buen catalán que hizo a la luz sumisa / jardinero de ideas, jardinero de sol / y al pincel y a la pluma y a la barba y a la risa / con que nos hace alegre la vida Rusiñol." [*Glory to the good Catalan who made light obedient /gardener of ideas, gardener of sun / and to the paintbrush and pen and beard and smile / with which Rusiñol brings joy to our lives]
A few months later, Darío, who was very ill by then, left for America on what would be his last trip.
Rubén Darío and Santiago Rusiñol were contemporaries. They spent long periods in Mallorca, although they never met on the island
Rusiñol knew the Serra de Tramuntana very well. His first stays, initially in the El Terreno district of Palma and then in Pollença, Cala Sant Vicenç, Sóller and Valldemossa, inspired some of his best-known paintings: views of Biniaraix, Castell del Rei in Pollença and the gardens at Raixa. The Serra de Tramuntana bewitched him right from the very outset and he decided to visit Mallorca often. A great extrovert, Rusiñol made friends with people from Mallorcan cultural circles of the time, especially with a married couple made up of painter Pilar Montaner and Joan Sureda Bímet. A big art enthusiast in general, Joan Sureda invited some of the early 20th century's leading writers and artists to King Sancho's palace in Valldemossa, which he owned, including Santiago Rusiñol and Rubén Darío. As we have already said, the latter never met in Valldemossa even though they were both friends with Joan Sureda and his wife, but they did stay at the Mallorcan coupl's house.
Rubén Darío made two trips to Mallorca. On the first occasion, accompanied by his wife Francisca Sánchez, he rented a house in El Terreno during the winter of 1906-1907. Widowed by his first wife Rafaela Contreras, Darío had been forced to marry Rosario Emelina at gunpoint by her brothers when he was completely inebriated. In Madrid, he met Francisca, the daughter of a keeper at the Casa de Campo, whom he married even though he had to take Rosario to court for years to divorce her. During his Mallorcan stay, Darío was in contact with Gabriel Alomar, Joan Alcover, and Joan Sureda and Pilar Montaner. They were months of great joy, with the island being perceived as a paradise by a mind starting to be affected by Darío's alcoholism. In 1913, Darío returned to paradise, now very ill, disillusioned, and suffering physically and emotionally. He came to Mallorca without his wife, who had remained in Paris, and he stayed at Joan Sureda's Valldemossa home. In theory he came to dry out. Although he managed to regain a certain spiritual calm, he had mood changes and was tempted back to alcohol. Finally, in 1913 just after Christmas, he got into such a nervous state that he decided to leave post haste for Barcelona, where he met up with his wife again. From Barcelona, he departed for America, where his illness worsened. Darío died in Nicaragua in 1916.
Darío and Rusiñol should have met in Valldemossa, but it was not to be. Life is very often not how it should be. Both men wrote a book that bears witness to their love of the Serra de Tramuntana: La isla de oro by Rubén Darío and L'illa de la calma by Rusiñol.
Text by Jordi Martí
Translated by Rachel Waters
Did you know that...
In 1902, Santiago Rusiñol and Joaquim Mir were commissioned with a series of panels for the new building of the Gran Hotel in Palma. Rusiñol made thirty landscapes of the Serra, from which he chose two views of Castell del Rei in Pollença and one of Raixa. The latter was replaced with another by the Gran Hotel's owner, who did not get on well with Raixa's owner. During his second stay in Mallorca, Rubén Darío experienced certain mystical temptations, of which only two legacies remain: he had himself photographed, dressed as a Carthusian monk, and he wrote a religious poem entitled La Cartuja (The Charterhouse).
Rubén Darío and Santiago Rusiñol each described their Mallorcan experiences in a book: La isla de oro by Rubén Darío and L'illa de la calma by Rusiñol. A recent edition of the latter was published by Ensiola in 2005.
One of the best monographic works on the subject of Santiago Rusiñol is Santiago Rusiñol. El pintor, l'home by Josep de C. Laplana, published by Publicacions de l'Abadia de Montserrat in 1995. Santiago Rusiñol i el seu temps by Josep Pla, published by Ed. Destino in 1981, also contains references to the Catalan painter's Mallorcan stays.
Rubén Darío's two stays on the island were analysed by Erminio Polidori in his article Rubén Darío en Mallorca, originally published in 1968. Today it can be found in the Instituto Cervantes' Online Library.