Four early 19th century letters from Owen Jones dated 1834 & 1835, three written from the Alhambra Palace (4)
Lot 85
JONES (OWEN)
Sold for £4,800 (US$ 7,754) inc. premium

Lot Details
JONES (OWEN)
Four autograph letters signed ("Owen Jones"), to his mother and sister, written "from within the enchanted walls of the Alhambra"; the first letter headed "La Alhambra Grenada – May 6th 1834", describing his first impressions of Spain and Malaga after travelling from Gibraltar with his companion, Jules Goury ("...at our feet lay continually the town of Malaga with its vast cathedral towering above the surrounding pygmy habitations bounded by the waters of the Mediterranean the blue coasts of Africa seen in the distance...") and his arrival at the Alhambra itself ("...rang a bell at a small wicket which externally presented no appearance of Elegance in an instant we entered into an immense court with a fish pond in the centre and two light and beautiful arcades at each end one giving entrance into the hall of the ambassadors and the other into the celebrated court of the lions nothing can convey an idea of the impression produced on the visitor by the sight of these halls with their flower beds & fountains the arcades and ornamented ceilings not an inch of wall but possess some delicate ornament in gilding and every variety of colors many of them as fresh as if the work of yesterday indeed the whole palace is so perfect that it is difficult to believe that it has stood the shock of centuries the hand of a Sultana from its laticed windows or caliph enthroned on his divan surrounded by his numerous attendants is alone wanting to give animation to this splendid [?fairy scene]..."), resulting in his determination to live in the palace itself ("...we immediately set about making our court to the Governor of the Alhambra who resides in the town to allow us to occupy his appartiments which form part of the Alhambra the person who has care of the palace having offered to board us...") and their slowly-stirring ambition to record what they have seen ("...we wander about the halls from morning till night examining every corner and wondering if we should ever the courage to undertake anything it has been the case with most persons who have come here for the purpose of study they have left in despair at the immense labour before them..."); the letter also containing excited descriptions of other features of Spanish life, such as clothing, the beauty of their women and the wonders of paella; the second letter headed "Grenada June 2d 1834", and announcing that they have decided to undertake the task hinted at in the previous letter [and possibly an intermediate letter now lacking] ("...we still occupy the abode I described in my last constantly adding to our portfolio the treasures of the Alhambra it is a long task in consequence of the great quantity of detail and we shall not get finished so soon as we expected we have but little distraction here and in consequence I have little to write to you upon we confine ourselves almost entirely to the Alhambra and descend rarely to the city below us..."); the third letter headed "Alhambra – Grenada – June 25th 1834", announcing that they are definitely undertaking the project ("...you will be surprised to find us still here but we have determined to draw the Alhambra inside out, and to obtain every thing necessary for a publication should we hereafter feel so inclined to undertake it..."); the fourth letter headed "Alhambra. Grenada. July 5th 1834", describing their continued work ("...we have taken a collection of paper impressions of all the Arabesques in the Alhambra and I shall shortly send you home a case from Malaga..."); with address leaves, postmarks, 12 closely-written pages, seal-tears, some light dust-staining and weakness at folds (affecting a few words of the text), folio and 4to, La Alhambra, Grenada, Spain, 16 May to 5 July 1834

Footnotes

  • "YOU NOW FIND ME WITHIN THE ENCHANTED WALLS OF THE ALHAMBRA": OWEN JONES IN THE ALHAMBRA, STUDYING ISLAMIC DESIGN. His studies of the Alhambra in Granada were pivotal in the development of his theories on flat pattern, geometry and polychromy, and were to not only to cement his reputation but have enormous influence on the course of nineteenth-century design. The book that eventually resulted became one of the most influential publications on Islamic architecture of all time (see the following lot): 'the shocking truth is that, though Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra is incomplete and inaccurate, it is still today the most complete visual record and, if the building were destroyed tomorrow in an earthquake, those appointed to restore the place would be heavily dependent on Jones's publication. Moreover, Jones and Goury's pictures serve as a record of what the place looked like before speculative restoration destroyed what was originally there. And, of course, by comparison with the fantastic exaggerations and whimsical ornamentation found in images by David Roberts and others, Jones's work was downright scientific' (Robert Irwin, The Alhambra, 2004, pp. 151-2).

    Owen Jones was later to be a pivotal figure in the formation of the South Kensington Museum (later to become the V&A) through his close association with Henry Cole, the museum's first director. Cole commissioned him to design the Indian Court and a Chinese & Japanese Court at the museum, with Jones's most famous protégé, Christopher Dresser, assisting in the project. The scheme had been intended to include an Alhambra Court, although this was never executed (see the V&A anniversary exhibition catalogue, Owen Jones: A Higher Ambition, 2009). Jones's companion Jules Goury, a pupil of Gottfried Semper with whom he had been studying the polychromy of ancient Greek buildings, was to die of cholera during their stay at the Alhambra. The first of these letters has been published in Spanish translation by Jesús Díaz García, 'Carta inédita de in viajero inglés por la Andalucía de 1834', Philologia Hispalensis, IV, vol.iv, fasc.ii, 797-809.
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