The Reading Room

Majorca Observed

Paul Hogarth’s illustrations for Robert Graves’ Majorca Observed’….

In 1965 Cassell published the poet and novelist Robert Graves’ affectionate look at the island he had come to live on and love. Majorca Observed is a sympathetic look at Majorcan life in the fifties and sixties before the onset of cheap flights and package holidays. Here is an account of the land and the people and it is clear what drove Graves to live here other than the climate.

The book and the real point of this post features the wonderful artwork of Paul Hogarth. An artist who shared Graves’ great love of Majorca and captured the landscape and daily life of the island so brilliantly. Like Graves, Hogarth immersed himself in his subject and would go on spend many happy times both living in and painting the island in the years before his death.

In 1953 Graves wrote about his relocating to Majorca in part for the weather and the ‘provocation of a painful domestic crisis‘ He found England too crowded, he disliked the mechanisation of agriculture and the new style of building and its pervasive affect on small towns and villages. Climate and decent wine must have been a draw in post-war 1950s England, Gertrude Stein first planted the Majorcan seed inside his head when he had visited her some years earlier at her home in France. Graves reasoned that location mattered little for the writer whose only real requirement was a supply of pens and paper or the luxury of a typewriter. An envious position to be in and he took it on with both hands emulating those artists and writers who, like Stein and her cohorts had escaped to France, Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean in the 1930s.

The book is richly illustrated throughout by Hogarth, his sketches and ink drawings add charm and character to an already enchanting travelogue and show the rewards of drawing ‘live’ in the way Hogarth did. Here was an artist perfectly comfortable at sitting in any given location capturing a landscape, building or street scene. He added some memorable caricatures which would become something of a hallmark for Hogarth and doubtless familiar to readers of Brendan Behan’s books on Ireland and New York. Only by truly immersing oneself in the land can you capture such images and Graves’ book is infinitely better for Hogarth’s hand.

Those of you who have read my other reviews of Paul Hogarth will recall my fondness for his inclusion of people in his landscape work, these simple looking characters really add a unique warmth and dimension to them, it brings the scenery to life in a way otherwise difficult to get across to the viewer. Hogarth had an eye for drawing the right type of person, they always looked like interesting characters and gave life to the writers books he worked on.

It is noticeable how quiet the drawings of the streets appear, a far cry from today’s Majorca but still to this day there are parts of the island which remain mercifully adrift of the tourist trade and offer us a taste of what Graves and Hogarth must have fallen in love with. Even back then the signs of what was to come had begun to appear and in 1965 Graves wrote of the 5,000 planes a month landing at Palma airport and the building of a 1,000 new hotels. He poured scorn on the English diet abroad and the ignorance of the new travellers, quoting one conversation between two women: “Where did you go for your holidays, Marge?” ..”Majorca, it was ever so nice”…”Where’s Majorca?”…”I don’t know, I flew”

In his autobiography, Hogarth tells us this is his favourite of all his books but felt that Graves didn’t take the project too seriously, he was clearly taken by the great man and the island and by the end of the sixties he bought a sixteenth-century farmhouse which had a rich history of resident artists and writers and so began Hogarth’s love for Majorca. It is a lovely book, Hogarth was clearly somewhat in awe of Graves and was nervous to present his portfolio to him but it would prove to be an exceptional collaboration and worth looking out for. Be prepared to pay for a decent copy as they are difficult to come by.

Paul Hogarth’s bibliography can be found here

 

 

 

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