I have always loved the way light made it come to life. Bright sunshine spilled in through the dining-room window before getting under the surface and breathing life into my favourite painting. The tropical yellow and red blobs shimmered in a sea of blue, as black dots and squiggles seemed to move between them. The blobs crept towards the edges of the canvas, and I loved all the swirling, crazy shapes that drew my attention. It was as though I was looking at a dream, and I smiled at the creative mind that created this wonderful piece. The master of so many similarly, brilliant works was none other than Joan Miro, a man known for his vibrant imagery and captivating playfulness. An original, certainly!
‘It’s wonderful David, really wonderful,’ said Laura excitedly. She was standing a few feet from the canvas and gazing with studied interest at Miro’s handiwork. She took a sip of wine and pursed her lips as her eyes slowly moved across the painting. Her head moved from side to side taking in the scene, and a slight grin broke from the edges of her mouth. I liked watching the bewitching influence this painting cast on those who stood before it – it never failed. As I looked on it was as if Laura was having a conversation with it, something I understood very well, for I, too, had often been in a similar trance. It was not the first time that somebody had been so impressed, but the fact that Laura was an art teacher was doubly pleasing. She turned to me and smiled, nodding her head in a knowing fashion. ‘Wonderful.’
‘Thanks,’ I replied and looked over at the shimmering colours.
‘Pity it’s not an original,’ she said, with a little giggle. ‘Where did you get it anyway?’
‘Well that’s a long story,’ I said ‘and one that I’ll tell you again when I’ve more time.’ I headed for the kitchen. ‘Right now I have to put food on the barbeque for all those folks in the garden, so you’ll have to excuse me. OK?’
Laura nodded and her gaze returned to the painting that was now bathed in the shifting rays of the afternoon sunbeams that danced between the swaying leaves of the palm tree on the patio.
A few weeks later Laura phoned and asked if she could come over. Her voice held a note of excitement.
‘Sure,’ I said ‘you must have known that I’ve just opened a bottle of wine!’
She laughed. ‘Brilliant, we’ll be there in ten minutes. Bye.’ She put the phone down immediately and I was left wondering. We, I thought, who is this other person? But then that was Laura’s style, always meeting people and introducing them like long lost friends. All good fun, really. And anyway, I knew she wanted to see the painting again, and she wouldn’t be disappointed, especially as it lay highlighted in golden light.
‘Salut, Joan,’ I joked and raised my glass to the Spanish painter before stepping out onto the patio.
When Laura arrived she was accompanied by a man, who she introduced as Pablo Morientes from Majorca. He was giving a summer course in her art school and he had a lifelong interest in the work of his fellow Spaniard. His hair was jet black and he had a bushy moustache above a mouth that suggested he was a happy sort. A firm and friendly handshake was reflected in his intelligent, blue eyes. ‘Hola’, he said shaking my hand.
‘Hola, como estas?’ I answered.
He grinned. ‘You speak Spanish?
‘A little,’ I offered. ‘But only if you speak slowly.’
‘Bueno. But I prefer to speak English – practise OK?’
‘Of course,’ I said and showed both of them into the dining room before I went to get two wine glasses.
I could hear them talking as I rinsed and dried the glasses and wondered just what Pablo might have to say about my Miro. The little painting that measured 20”X18” was the centre of attention just as it was the day I came upon it four, or was it five, years ago?
I was on holiday in Majorca with the explicit intention of improving my Spanish and staying at my sister’s villa in Port D’Andratx. I went to see Frederic Chopin’s winter hideaway in Valldemossa with its magnificent view of the blue expanse of the Bay of Palma where La Seu, the magnificent cathedral, dominated. Later, I visited a number of galleries, of which, thankfully, Palma has plenty. The Museum of Contemporary Spanish Art has a collection of great works by Picasso, Dali and many other local artists. It also houses a few by Joan Miro, and I was delighted to see these works in a Spanish environment. Seeing them here, in their own place, was a special treat.
While strolling through the narrow streets near to the Plaza Major I met my Miro. I had been browsing aimlessly through the colourful and noisy streets, taking in the local artists and musicians when, for no particular reason, I stepped into a small shop and saw the painting. It was lying against a wall at the back of the shop and covered in a layer of blue dust. I knelt down and drew my finger across the top of the frame and immediately fell in love with the bright colours. I moved back a little to get a better view and knew exactly the wall in my house that could do with something like that hanging on it.
‘You like, senor? asked a voice from on high.
I was taken aback and stood up.
The owner of the voice was a large, middle-aged woman wearing plenty of gold bracelets and rings. She was very attractive and her brown eyes seemed to know exactly what I was thinking.
‘Yes,’ I managed to say ‘it’s…..it’s wonderful!’
She nodded like the practiced trader she was. ‘€200.’ She smiled and took a step back, giving me time and space to consider her offer.
I made a face. ‘It’s nice, but €200 is a …..’
Neither of us said anything for what seemed like the longest time. ‘OK, give me €175 and it’s yours.’ She smiled like a seductive siren.
I grinned and opened my wallet where €160 waited. ‘That’s all I have,’ showing the empty leather folder. I waited.
She rubbed the notes deliciously and eyed me closely, and smiled. ‘Because I like you,’ she said and the deal was done. I followed her to the counter where she put the dusty painting into a large plastic bag and said ‘Adios’ before giving a new customer her full attention.
I walked to the Plaza Major, had a few cold beers and wondered at what had just happened. What was it called? Doing one thing and suddenly finding yourself involved in something else? Then I remembered. Serendipity, that was it. What a wonderful name for spending an aimless afternoon before buying a lovely painting, which only a few hours earlier I had no thought of doing!
Laura and Pablo were standing in front of the painting when I entered the room and poured the wine. ‘Rioja,’ I said and we clinked glasses.
‘Gracias,’ said Pablo.
‘You like,’ I asked.
He took a sip and nodded approval. I then glanced at the painting and Laura’s eyes widened.
Pablo took another sip before replying.
I waited. What for, I had no idea, but just the element of unknowing was exciting.
Pablo left his glass down, put his hands together and then drew one across his mouth.
I sipped some more.
‘It’s wonderful, David. Really wonderful.’ He paused. ‘Can you tell me where you bought it?’ He added quickly ‘If that is not too, how you say, nosey?
Two sets of interested eyes never moved from me as I told them the story of my find in Palma.
Both shook their heads and I could see that Pablo was very interested. ‘Do you know much about Miro’s work?’ he asked, a serious tone to his question.
‘I know that he was involved with the Surrealists, and that he lived in Paris for a number of years.’ I put my glass down. ‘He also worked in ceramics and moved to Majorca where he died on Christmas Day 1983.’
‘Bueno,’ said Pablo. ‘Like other great artists he had many different phases in his career, one of which was the painting of his Constellation series. These are similar in style to your painting and there are only 23 of them, recorded, that is.’ He paused for effect, I supposed, and the small room was silent.
Laura took a sip and licked her lips in anticipation.
‘There has always been a rumour that Miro did another painting in the series, No 24, but it has always been just that…..….a rumour.’ He turned to look at the painting. ‘But now I’m not so sure.’
Laura raised an excited eyebrow. ‘What do you mean, Pablo?’
‘Having studied Miro’s work for over twenty years now, I think,’ he looked at both of us ‘that this may be his missing work. This may indeed be Constellation No 24.’
I felt a shiver crawl up my spine. My mouth was dry and I looked wide-eyed at Pablo who was now grinning. Mischievous or what, I thought, and stepped closer to the painting as my heart beat a little quicker.
‘You’re joking,’ was all that I could offer.
‘I think not,’ said Pablo slipping into his professional artist’s mode. ‘The brushwork I recognise and the images used are similar to those in the other Constellation paintings. The canvas and framing look original, so I think that it might be Miro’s missing masterpiece.’ He let that sink in and I felt my jaw drop at the thought of having an original Miro hanging in my house. I took a big sip of wine and looked at Laura who was equally dumbfounded. More serendipity, I thought, and went to the kitchen and got another bottle.
Later, we sat out on the patio discussing the merits of the painting and Pablo grew more convinced as the evening wore on. He wanted to take photographs of it and discuss ‘the matter’ with his colleagues in Spain and asked if that was alright with me. I couldn’t object and chatted with Laura while Pablo took a number of Polaroids of No. 24.
‘It’s so exciting, David,’ chirped Laura the excitement in her voice now loud and obvious. ‘What will you do?’
‘You mean if it’s real?’ I replied, trying to calm my growing excitement.
‘Of course,’ said Laura.
I put my glass down and looked up at the setting sun, now a large, red sinking ball. I shook my head a few times. ‘I don’t know, I have no idea.’ Then I turned to Laura and winked. ‘But it could be fun!’
Laura smiled her largest smile and both of us laughed out loud.
When the wine was finished Laura and Pablo left and I was on my own with the thought, however fanciful, that only a few feet away Miro’s Constellation No 24 was looking down on me. Wow, I thought, and closed my eyes as the breeze rustled the leaves on the palm tree.
About a month later I received a phone call from Pablo. He said that he had shown the Polaroids to his experts he knew who were intrigued with ‘his find.’ It may indeed be the missing Miro but that they needed to see it, ‘in the flesh’ as it were. ‘Can you bring it to Palma?’
I was stunned. ‘Sure,’ I replied. ‘I can’t get over for a fortnight,’ I added ‘would that be okay?’
‘Fine, that would be fine,’ Pablo replied ‘and it will give us more time to check things out.’
‘Right then, I’ll be in touch before I travel. Okay?’
‘Adios, and what is Palma like now?’ I asked a definite edge of excitement in my voice.
‘Fantastico!’ he said his voice rising, before clicking off.
Pablo and one of his colleagues, Antonio Diaz, met me at the airport and we drove to the Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro. The Foundation is named after Miro and his wife, and If there was something useful to be found out about my painting then we were certainly in the right place. It oozed refinement,and everywhere works by the great man were on show. It was indeed an Aladdin’s cave of Miro paintings, sculpture and glistening ceramics. and a place he would surely have been proud of.
I was introduced to the Director, Fernando Gonzalez, a tall man in an immaculately tailored black suit who had the unmistakable bearing of a leader. His inquisitive, bright eyes never left mine as he shook my hand and showed me to a chair in front of his desk. He asked me to tell him ‘the story’ and I did that over a cup of coffee. He was intrigued.
When I stopped he opened his palms to heaven and said, ‘That is amazing. Absolutely amazing.’ Pablo and Antonio were grinning at the unlikely tale and I felt my face redden. I mean, here I was in the Miro Foundation, telling these experts how I had discovered a painting whose ‘existence’ they had considered a rumour, and now it may just become a reality. It was a great surprise, and the silence in the room fuelled the edgy anticipation.
‘Shall we go down and see, Manuel?’ said Fernando rising from his chair. Pablo opened the door, smiled and we walked down a picture-laden corridor to the conservation department. This is a fabulous facility with state of the art equipment for the repair and preservation of works of art. The hum of activity hung in the air alongside the gentle hum of the atmosphere-controlling machines.
I handed over the well-wrapped package and waited as the Chief Conservator, Luis Rivera, cut the painting free. There was an audible intake of breath as the painting was placed on a long glass desk that was lit from below. The Director bent down to get a closer look as did Antonio and the Chief Conservator. Pablo turned to me and winked.
‘How long are you staying in Palma? asked the Director as the others followed his words.
‘My ticket is for a week,’ I answered.
‘Excellent,’ he replied. ‘We would like to carry out some tests, you understand, so as to establish the authenticity.’ He shrugged. ‘Or not, as the case may be.’
‘Very well then, Pablo will keep you informed.’ He glanced at my painting. ‘And thank you very much for bringing it here. It is very good of you.’ He leaned over and shook my hand.
Everybody was smiling, and it looked as though the experts had come across the Holy Grail and couldn’t wait to get on with their examination. I hoped they were right, sort of. Well I had bought the painting because I liked it, and that’s all. I never imagined anything like this happening, and anyway, what could I do? That word serendipity floated back into my mind and all I could do was think of Miro and wonder what he might say. Bueno, maybe. That was something none of us would ever know, but I was sure that he would be happy with his painting being ‘found’. Gracias, mucho gracias!
Over the next few days I took in the sights of Palma and came to understand why the city played such a vital role in the lives of Miro, Picasso and Salvador Dali. The atmosphere on the streets mixed easily with the smells of tapas from the restaurants and, combined with the warm, Mediterranean breeze, it made a heady concoction that excited the imagination. Its creative nudge was undeniable and Pablo agreed with my observation over dinner one evening. He was non-committal about events at the foundation, but by the same token said nothing to discourage me. ‘When are you going home, David?’ he asked later.
‘Saturday,’ I replied, knowing that half of my allotted time was already used up.
We drank some more of his fine wine and chatted about life in Palma and his part-time work at the Foundation. He loved art, had painted since he was a child, and had won competitions both in school and college. He sold some of his work but not enough to allow him to give up his teaching role at the university where he lectured on art history, specialising in the life and work of Spanish artists. It was through this that he had developed his love for Miro, and he had published numerous articles on his favourite subject.
It was easy to see why he was so taken by my painting, and why he had asked me to bring it here. His love affair with the works of Miro was obvious, but the possibility of discovering Constellation No 24 was simply incredible. At first they had not believed him at the Institute until he produced the Polaroids and told his side of the story. The other experts were so taken with his enthusiasm that they suggested that I should be invited to Palma – with the painting of course! So here I was looking out over the bay and the hundreds of yachts and sailing boats in the marina.
A day later I picked up a note at the hotel’s front desk. ‘Collect you at 1 o’clock. Pablo.’ I read it a second time and sat down with my mind racing about what might lie ahead. It was buzzing but I knew that I should be happy. If nothing else happened at least I had enjoyed the week in beautiful Palma and made a new friend in Pablo. And, come what may, I was going home with my Miro safe, where an empty wall awaited.
Pablo and Antonio were on time and we drove through the busy traffic, open-top, as the breeze kept us cool. Driving past the magnificent marina the sunlight sparkled off the chrome and steel of the myriad of sailing boats. Everywhere there was light and sparkle and it was a thrill to sit back and take it all in. I loved the rush of wind on my face and the tangy smell that came from the sea. It was a classic Mediterranean mixture, and I closed my eyes and breathed in the invigorating vapours.
When we reached the Foundation we made our way to the Chief Conservator’s office where he and the Director were waiting. I noted that the large room was almost empty of furniture but it had quite a few paintings hanging from its white walls. In the middle of the room, resting on an old, well-used easel and demanding attention, was my Miro.
The Director stepped forward and shook my hand, his eyes betraying nothing more than a friendly greeting. ‘I hope that you are enjoying our city?’ he asked, stretching his arms out extravagantly. I thought that I saw a little grin sneak out of the corner of his friendly mouth.
‘Yes,’ I replied ‘it’s been great. Bueno.’
The Director stood over my Miro and I could see him draw in his breath slowly. He was preparing himself, and only a tiny mote of dust moved in the sunlight. He looked to his colleagues and turned to face me. ‘My dear, David, we have studied this beautiful painting very carefully. Very, very carefully,’ he stressed ‘and we are of the opinion that it may indeed be Constellation No 24. Our initial examination shows similar techniques and materials used by Miro, and we would like to carry out some more tests. Gabriel Solano, who is considered to be the pre-eminent scholar on Miro, is arriving from Madrid next week, so we would like him to see it. If that is alright with you?’
The silence was deafening.
The sunlight danced across the floor and flicked against the edge of my Miro. It tickled the surface and a spark seemed to explode and hit me in the eye. I felt as if the air had been sucked from me and I could not hear anything. Was this really happening? I blinked and looked around at their anxious faces. ‘Sure, no problem,’ I replied ‘no problem at all.’
They all nodded and the Director shook my hand firmly. ‘Gracias, mucho gracias,’ he laughed, and the others clapped congratulating me.
‘It’s a wonderful day for you,’ said Pablo ‘and for Miro. He would be very happy. He is coming home.’
We drank some fine wine and the Director offered me one of his favourite Cuban cigars. He and the others, especially the Chief Conservator, explained their findings and their reasons for thinking that Miro’s missing masterpiece had been found. It was all very professional, and exciting.
After I left Palma, Pablo kept me informed of progress. Finally, after two weeks, I was surprised when the Director himself called. With his excitement barely under control, he said that Constellation No 24 had indeed been found.
I was lost for words and could hear only the gentle hum on the line. ‘Thank you,’ I managed. ‘What now?’
The Director had clearly been expecting this and his answer was calm and controlled. ‘David, such a painting could be, no,’ he corrected himself ‘is, worth a lot of money, especially if it goes to auction. You understand?’
‘Well, the Foundation would love to add it to its collection and it has many rich patrons.’
‘So, why don’t you come over next week and we can work something out,’ continued the Director. ‘We’ll send you tickets tomorrow, okay?’
‘Fine. Next week is fine.’
‘Gracias, David,’ he said. ‘You have made a lot of people very happy. And many, many more will also be delighted when they get to see your Miro.’
I grinned broadly.
The next few days passed in a daze while I prepared to travel. Miro’s painting was certainly going home, but what did it mean to me? And could the Foundation’s patrons donate enough money to purchase the painting and make a big difference to my life? Hopefully, I thought, for the umpteenth time. On the day of my flight I locked up the house and grinned at the empty space on the wall where a stray sunbeam lay. ‘Adios,’ I said.
Palma was hot and humid and Pablo definitely had an extra bounce in his step. He was a happy man and he talked excitedly all the way to the Foundation. There he introduced me to Carlos Lopez and Diego Falcone, two of the Institute’s richest patrons, who shook my hand and thanked me for finding the missing Miro. And so it was that within five few minutes I had signed over my rights to Constellation No 24 for a very significant amount of money.
And one other, small thing.
And it’s this small thing, a brilliant copy of my Miro, done by one of the Institute’s artists, that now hangs on the wall in my dining room where it entrances people. ‘A pity it’s not an original,’ they say. And you know something, they’re right!