Montserrat Herrera Coromines looks at the bare wall of the dining room. Where before two works by Salvador Dalí hung, now a shadow remains, a void that has not yet been assumed. “These drawings have been part of my visual landscape since I was a child. I’m going to miss them so much… The one with the sardana had a lot of movement”, he says, as if he already gave them up for lost, as if he had abandoned all hope that the Mossos will recover them, stop the thieves who broke into the his home, in the wealthy Barcelona district of Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, and return some prints that explain part of his life, but also the intense friendship between the Coromines family and the Dalí family.
Herrera Coromines, 84, left on Sunday morning for Matadepera to eat at her daughter’s house. In the early afternoon, the concierge of the building called her on the phone to tell her that a tenant had seen her apartment door open. Someone had forced her. The woman arrived before the police did. She verified that the two Dalis —Farmers Y the sardanes, both painted in 1922—had disappeared, as had some jewelry. The rest was intact. The thieves did not touch the cash or his iPad. And they ignored a much larger and more colorful painting – the two Dalí prints, about 45 centimeters on a side, are in black and white – by Rafael Bataller, also hanging in the dining room.
“It seems to me that they came to look for the Dalis”, says Herrera Coromines. He assures that he has no clue about the author of the robbery. “No matter how many times I give it, I don’t know what could have happened. They were discreet paintings, they do not attract the attention of uneducated people…”. His hypothesis coincides with that of the investigators from the historical heritage unit of the Mossos d’Esquadra, who suspect a robbery by order. Things were made easier for the thieves by the fact that the woman did not have any security measures on the floor: no cameras, no armored door, no alarm. She excuses herself. “I don’t know… she had these drawings so internalized that for me they didn’t have an economic value but rather a sentimental one. I had never thought of selling them. I am sorry that they are not going to happen to my children, ”she says, skeptical about the possibility of this story having a happy ending.
Each sheet could have an approximate value of 300,000 euros, according to the complaint. But Herrera Coromines confesses that she is not so sure that it is so high. “They forced me a bit to give a figure… I think it was the amount of the insurance they gave me when I left them for an exhibition,” she says about the departure of the works to be exhibited at the L’Empordà Museum in 2004, within of the exhibition Dali’s Country which could be seen during the Dalí Year celebration. In 2015, a drawing made in India ink by the painter in 1923 with characteristics similar to these four was auctioned and reached an auction of 78,404 euros.
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The two stolen drawings were part of a set of four that Dalí painted 100 years ago for his friend and lawyer Pere Coromines. They should be part of the book The graces of the Empordà, which was never published. Even so, the drawings were preserved and have always been in the possession of the heirs of Coromines. And this is where the paths of the four “graces” fork. And where should we look back?
From an Empordà family, the writer, politician and economist Pere Coromines was a classmate at the Barcelona Law School of Salvador Dalí Cusí, the painter’s father, with whom he became friends. In 1896, Coromines was accused of taking part in a terrorist attack in Barcelona and taken to Montjuïc Castle to stand trial under threat of the death penalty. The testimony of Dalí’s father and future notary of Figueres was key. He declared so vehemently that “it seemed that he wanted to hit the judge,” the defendant would later write in a letter. However, he was sentenced to eight years in prison and then, in 1901, amnestied. The friendship was sealed forever.
In 1922, Coromines asked a very young Dalí, who was barely 18 years old, but had already exhibited his work for the first time in the Dalmau galleries in Barcelona, to illustrate a new edition of his book of poetic prose. The painter writes two letters to him in September. “I am pleased to tell you that the four topics I have chosen are the following: The donkeys of Living, The Sardanas of the festival, the stale wine, Farmers. Please kindly let me know, as soon as I have it decided, the shape and size in which I should make the drawings. I remain at your service”. In another later letter, he expresses his interest in the project: “You cannot imagine with what love and with what enthusiasm I am drawing the toys for the illustration of his book.
The book did not see the light of day, but the prints did, and they survived the passage of time and the vicissitudes of history. When Pere Coromines died in exile in Buenos Aires, in 1939, the pictorial work that he had accumulated was distributed. Each of his six children got a work by the painter Joaquín Torres-García. But the four Dalí drawings remained in the hands of one of them, Carme Corominas, who had them all her life hanging in the dining room of her house, in a flat on Muntaner street in Barcelona. That is why they formed part of the visual memory of Montserrat Herrera Coromines. And her brothers.
The diaspora of the four ‘graces’
The death of Carme Corominas, in 2007, meant that the work, conceived as a unit, disintegrated for the first time. It was a friendly distribution, depending on the tastes of each one, and provisional. The idea was that the sheets would circulate from house to house, as in a kind of temporary exhibition. The reality is that, over time, they became part of the permanent collection of each of the daughters.
Júlia Herrera Coromines, 77, stayed The donkeys of Viura Y the stale wine, which he especially liked because, when he ate, he was right in front of him. On Monday, by mistake, she learned that one of the stolen paintings was the stale wine. “Let’s see if the Mossos or someone is coming for breakfast, they see the sheet here and think we’ve stolen it,” jokes Ignasi Oliva, Júlia’s husband. Oliva believes that his sister-in-law was the victim of some kind of surveillance on Sunday, but he cannot find an explanation for the robbery either. “I don’t know, if there are people walking around the house, maybe someone noticed…”.
“These paintings had a value as a whole, surely much higher than 300,000 euros… But separately… With the theft they already lose part of their value. In addition, it is a black and white drawing, of a very young Dalí, and the signature that appears is not the one that has since been universally known”, says Oliva, who works as an informal historian of the family’s adventures and the drawings. . Precisely to avoid controversies over the signature, the family took the plates to the castle of Púbol, where “Dalí himself authenticated them”. “We know the history, they have been exhibited… There is no doubt that they are authentic,” he insists.
“If the thieves know they are Dalis, they will sell them at a loss if they find a collector who wants to pay them. I don’t think it will do them much good. These paintings are to be hung up and enjoyed”, continues Oliva. He remembers that, in his mother-in-law’s apartment, on Muntaner street in Barcelona, the small Thank you dalinianas went even more unnoticed. “There, Dalí’s signature could not even be seen: it was hidden by the mat.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.