This art gallery has closed down.
In early summer, during Corpus Christi celebrations, some of Palma’s most significant properties open their portals, revealing exquisite courtyards usually hidden from public view. But some courtyards can be enjoyed year-round and one, in particular, offers even more than what an old mallorquin saying describes as “the Promised Land within one’s own home”.
Can Morey-Santmarti – a 17th century palau within the city walls – is one of several notable buildings with courtyards in Carrer de la Portella. At the beginning of the 20th century, it belonged to Antoní Marquès Luigi but, in 1973, his heirs sold it. With money from his father, the artist Joaquín Torrents Lladó bought what would become first his family home and workplace and – nine years after his untimely death in 1993 – the Casa Museu J. Torrents Lladó.
The artist’s son Oliver Torrents Sandberg – who, with his sister María and brother Joaquín, inherited the property – says it was in a poor state and cost “very little money”. But 1500 square metres of space meant great potential and, after restoration, would provide a nine bedroomed home and workspace for the artist.
Today, this part of the old quarter is a peaceful haven from the bustle of Palma’s centre. But back in 1973, the waters of the Mediterranean still lapped against the city walls and, outside the property’s huge doors, La Portella was a less salubrious area. The courtyard has traditional cobbled paving, small ornamental pool, and lush green potted plants, against a backdrop of green-shuttered windows and wrought iron balconies. And, on the left, a small wall of medieval origin, topped with a neogothic gallery.
But the real treasure is the house and its contents, revealing what must have made this once a special home – and now an enchanting museum, housing more than a hundred pieces of Torrents Lladó’s art and some of the furniture and artefacts collected on his travels to France, Italy and Japan.
The art isn’t all hanging on the walls. Torrents Lladó also painted onto the walls themselves. In what’s now the portrait room, the walls are painted pale blue, with gilt-edged panels exquisitely hand-painted with garlands and musical instruments.
In the former dining room, with its ornate Venetian light fitting, the marble fireplace has a painted insert either side, depicting scenes of Palma from the bay. And the walls of the small marble-floored foyer leading into both dining room and study also bear the artist’s brushstrokes.
Photographs, artist materials and important documents – such as the framed certificate Torrents Lladó received as Fine Arts’ World Personality of the Year 1988, and one proclaiming him honorary citizen of Texas – are displayed in the former kitchen. There’s even a model gondola and ashtray from Harry’s Bar – souvenirs of Venice, a city he loved to paint.
Many original features were retained, including traditional tiles and some old doors hinged so that, when fully open, they lean at an angle against the wall. More modern touches include the richly-hued dark wooden floorboards laid in some rooms – and it’s in the spacious studio where they have their greatest impact.
The studio was the last renovation project and it’s hard to believe that the artist hasn’t just gone out for a café cortado with some of his art students. There’s even a piano tinkling in the background . . .
Renowned architect Ricardo Bofill created this workspace of spacious studio and mezzanine floor study (housing one of the largest private collections of books on Mallorca). Dark wooden panelled walls, floorboards, black-painted pillars, and the sombre backgrounds of the easel-mounted paintings are countered by rich deep pinks and reds in upholstery and rugs. And from above, the light by which to paint filters down through the semi-opaque glass ceiling.
An intimate corner seating area is bedecked with plump cushions, framed family photos, and more of the artist’s work, including Oliver’s favourite: a delightful childhood portrait of him and his sister.
The studio also has an elaborate mahogany fireplace surround, from Barcelona, with a painted canvas insert. And here is the source of the music: a gleaming grand piano de cola. Oliver says his father always painted to music and wanted him and María to play for him. Two years of piano lessons later, Torrents Lladó bought the self-playing piano.
There is much more to discover: hidden doors, the portrait sitter’s dressing room – complete with gowns – and examples of Torrents Lladó’s work as a graphic artist and stage set designer. What was it like to grow up here? “For me, living here was all I knew,” says Oliver. “With its size and secret hiding places it was lots of fun, with plenty of space to play. But I didn’t realise, until I grew up, quite how special it was.”
Casa Museu J Torrents Lladó
Carrer de la Portella 9
Tel: +34 971 729 835
Tuesday to Friday 10.00-18.00;