'Allegory of Poetry', by Santiago Rusiñol

Work: Allegory of Poetry, by Santiago Rusiñol

Date: c. 1894

Technique: Oil on canvas

Dimensions:140 x 184 cm (pointed-arch shape). Signed in the lower right-hand corner: S. Rusiñol, undated

Collection: Former collection of Santiago Rusiñol. Museu Cau Ferrat

Inventory no.: 32,007


Description and historic background:

The painter and poet Santiago Rusiñol set up his home and studio at Cau Ferrat in Sitges with the intention of making it “a hermitage by the sea, where all the pilgrims of the arts can go to take the waters of poetry and cure themselves of the hubbub of the city”. He pronounced these words at the official opening of the house on 4th November 1894, when the 3rd Modernista Festival was also being held. It was at this refuge that Rusiñol’s aspirations to achieve Total Art reached their maximum expression, and it became an inner universe and a synthesis of all artistic manifestations, far away from the recent unrest and anarchist attacks in Barcelona.

The pointed-arch windows at the back of the large Gothic-style salon on the first floor were designed by the architect Francesc Rogent. They included personifications of painting and poetry, which were surrounded, significantly, by an allegory of music: mural paintings that sought to imbue the “inn for the pilgrim’s of Saint Poetry” with a markedly symbolic décor that would be intimately linked to architecture; because the concept and shape were in keeping with “the moral ambiance of the building, of the state of mind of those that gathered there from time to time as a brotherly community”, as the writer and critic Raimon Casella put it when referring to the site. Rusiñol said in a letter to his friend E. Clarasó: “the panels in Sitges (the third remains unfinished and isn’t as important) [...] are new to me, in the mystical and decorative sense”. Indeed, they represent a change of register in his artistic career, which manifested itself through the marked influence of the Franco-Belgian symbolist movement and his recent trip to Italy, where he had discovered, in situ, the paintings of the Italian Primitives, which led him to explore a pre-Raphaelite-style symbolism.

Casellas points out that “Lady Poetry [...] her noble head laurel-crowned, is an ideal reminder of the women Dante and Petrarch dreamt of; and the aesthetic young nobleman of Painting, is the last painter of the mystical dream”. On one side, we see Painting inside a suggested landscape, through the eyes and brushstrokes of a young Florentine painter, who in the middle of a field of lilies, glimpses the mysterious retinue of virgins who move further away and are transmuted into clouds, as if drawn to the sky that calls out to them. On the other side, the distracted yet attentive presence of Lady Poetry, who is expecting a revelation she will pick up with her pen so that she can leave a written record of it.

Poetry stands on a winding path, with yellow irises at the start, messengers of love that make the heart beat. They are in harmony with the opposite end, where the path emerges, like a kind of basilica or light-filled cathedral, “gleaming like guardian needles, beneath turquoise hues and shining atmospheres”. A fountain of white lilies rises up in the meadow among white flowers, cornflowers and buttercups. It is a symbol of purity, the fountain of life and initiation (it is the fountain of the water of life, the very same Gothic font that Rusiñol found in the shrine of El Vinyet and displayed on the ground floor of Cau Ferrat). By a leafy forest, the pink oleanders of the Mediterranean regions fill in the outline of the “ effects of life, the senses and eternal longings” [...] “it contains some chapters of the gospel which many select souls today long to follow, beset by drowsy sleep, by mysterious ideality...”. Because, as Alfred Opisso wrote about the work, “when you look at it, you feel entranced; it is the feeling of the intangible”.

A careful look at the works reveals the poetic nature of gardens, which from 1894 onwards would become the germ for the series “Jardins d’Espanya” (Gardens of Spain), although, in this triptych, the garden more closely resembles Fra Angelico’s hortus amoenus. It is the language of flowers and silent things, the relationship between the word revealed and the sentimental meanings in the landscape that seem to evoke Baudelaire’s poem Correspondences, which became a kind of programmatic text for the symbolists: “Nature is a temple in which living pillars / At times give voice to confused words: / man traverses it through a forest of symbols / that look at him with familiar glances. / Like prolonged echoes that intermingle from afar / in a dark and profound unity / vast like the night and like the light / the perfumes, sounds and colours respond.”

It is the need of knowing how to dream and the evocation of inspiration that come together in this garden of symbols, full of clues about the correspondences that link the visible with the invisible, the fortuitous and the necessary. And, as “all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music”, to quote Walter Pater, its personification as a diaphanous maiden carrying a lyre, in a watery landscape, makes it possible to trace a whole series of harmonic cadences, allegories and relationships between the arts, which transport us to a mystical adoration of beauty. Cau Ferrat was built as a Shrine to Beauty which, in Rusiñol’s words, is defined as “the harmony the soul seeks so eagerly; it is the beauty the spirit dreams of; it is the perfumed essence that rises up like incense from the very depths of matter and takes the form of a cloud that envelops the heart of man [...] When beauty awakens, it opens the doors of the day; when it falls asleep, it lights up the stars in the sky; when it passes, the clouds know; they follow it majestically to the beyond, to the chariot of dawn or the beautiful farewell of the sunset. When it stops, it spouts poetry and sings random songs. When it dreams, all the poets dream, when it weeps, all souls tremble; and when it prays, man falls silent, the wind falls silent, the voices of the forest fall silent; and the windows to glory half open and the angels kneel” (Cigales i Formigues).


Salon du Champ de Mars de Paris (1895), 1093.

Third Barcelona General Exhibition of Fine Arts (1869), 133, where it won a prize.

Basic bibliography:

La Vanguardia. Barcelona: (12-5-1896)

La Veu de Catalunya. (17-5-1896), p.410

L’Atlàntida. No. 2 . (I-I-1897), cover, fig.

Laplana, Josep de C. Santiago Rusiñol. El pintor, l’home. Barcelona. Publ. l’Abadia de Montserrat, 1995. [See systematic catalogue of Rusiñol’s paintings, no. 9.1.2, p. 518].

Coll Mirabent, I. Rusiñol. Sant Sadurní d’Anoia: Flama, 1990.

Panyella, Vinyet. Epistolari del Cau Ferrat, 1889-1930. Sitges: Grup d’Estudis Sitgetans, 1981.

Author of the file: Teresa-M. Sala