George Sheridan began the book on story of the art collection at La Residencia 15 years ago. But being, as his wife Cecilie puts it, ‘an artist dedicated to his work to the point of obsession, he couldn’t put his brushes down long enough to carry on writing’.
Sadly, George passed away in 2008. The idea of finishing the book began brewing in Cecilie’s mind five years ago. In 2016, she started writing in earnest.
The book, which is beautifully produced, includes a fascinating account of how the art collection at La Residencia came to be together with reproductions of paintings and brief biographies of some notable Deià artists.
On a fine morning earlier this week I sat down with Cecilie Sheridan on the tranquil, leafy terrace outside Belmond La Residencia’s Café Miró to talk about the book. Named for the great Spanish artist Joan Miró, who lived and worked for many years in Mallorca, the delightful café terrace was the perfect setting for our conversation.
Cecilie and I have met a few times over the years, but this was my first opportunity to hear the story of her and George and the fascinating art collection at La Residencia. A person who radiates gentle warmth and kindness, she has the sharp, curious eyes of an artist.
I began by asking why Cecilie felt compelled to finish the book. ‘People continuously asked about the art collection at La Residencia,’ she explained. ‘I wanted to give the hotel staff something to help them talk about the art. I also felt there was an interesting story to be told about the many artists who came to visit, evident in the works that found their way onto the hotel walls. Not to mention the various bars and restaurants in the village.’
The collection now spans over 800 pieces. I asked Cecilie how it began in the first place. ‘When George first came to Deià in 1958, he was already becoming an established artist in France and the USA. This put him in a position to help artists in Deià by purchasing work of theirs that he appreciated. He knew how hard it was to live as an artist.’
And how did the collection find a home at Belmond La Residencia? ‘Axel Ball, the creator and original owner of the hotel, was a patron of the arts. Before the hotel was inaugurated in 1984, Axel came to George and asked if he would like to hang some of his own work in the hotel. As you can see, the hotel walls are rather large. George did, and we also offered to lend other paintings in our collection too, which at that time numbered between 180 and 200 pieces. It was a very casual arrangement. We certainly didn’t think it would become an institution.’
In the book, George writes that, since 1984, ‘A remarkable and symbiotic relationship has evolved, bringing together the artistic forces of the region, and aligning them with the life of a luxury hotel that, in turn, displays these fine works. There exists a definite connection between the artists, their work and the hotel.’
For Ulisses Marreiros, General Manager of Belmond La Residencia, ‘The George and Cecilie Sheridan Art Collection is more than just an integral part of the whole ambience of the hotel. It demonstrates our profound connection to Deià, the village we all love. We’re honoured that this is the home of such a unique collection.’
I asked Cecilie if there was a guiding principle behind the art collection at La Residencia. ‘We’ve always respected the diversity of tastes and styles practiced by artists in Deià. There’s not a unifying style or theme. Some artists are highly educated, some self-taught. Over the years, artists have come to Deià from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Australia, Sweden, Denmark and the USA to work alongside local artists. This inevitably gives the art collection at La Residencia an international flavour.’
What brought so many artists to Deià over the years, I asked, although my question was of course partly answered by the breathtaking location in which we sat. ‘Of course, Deià is very beautiful,’ Cecilie said. ‘The combination of mountains and sea make it a spectacular place in which to live. The climate is kind. And, in the early days, it was extremely inexpensive. There was already an artists’ colony here in 1958, when George arrived. When we came together to live in 1972, we found the community of artists had grown. So there’s been a climate of culture here for a long time.’
One of the questions I’m constantly asking myself is whether Deià is a magical place or if the people who’ve come here over the years have somehow created an atmosphere of magic. What did Cecilie think? ‘I’d hesitate to use the word “magical”. It’s such a hippy-dippy word. But you may well be right. There is something special here. As for whether it’s the place or the people who made Deiá the way it is, I’d have to say the answer is somewhere between the two.’
A remarkable and symbiotic relationship has evolved, bringing together the artistic forces of the region, and aligning them with the life of a luxury hotel that, in turn, displays these fine works. There exists a definite connection between the artists, their work and the hotel.
How does Cecilie feel about the village today? ‘Physically it’s not changed very much. The main difference is the amount of traffic. But I’m not really nostalgic. I accept that Deià is not going to return to being the village I knew in 1964. The real upside is the number of interesting people who come here. One is constantly pleasantly surprised.’
When I’m talking to someone who knew Robert Graves, as Cecilie and George did, I can’t resist asking for their impressions of the man. ‘We would meet him down at Cala Deià when we all went for our early morning swim. He was a minimal man. He often didn’t bother with a towel and, looking like something out of a Greek or Roman myth, he would stand in the sun and let the warm air dry his skin. Even in a battered straw hat and ragged shorts, he looked like an emperor. But he was very simple. He loved to garden, make jam, cook and just spend hours quietly pottering.’
The George and Cecilie Sheridan Collection is a great gift to the village, especially as anyone who would like to can wander into Belmond La Residencia and admire it. I wanted to know what Cecilie felt the village had given her.
‘Flexibility in my way of thinking about things,’ was her immediate answer. ‘I’ve met so many people whose early conditioning was utterly different from mine. Over the years, I’ve also appreciated the tolerance of the local people. I arrived in the early 1960s. Mallorca was very Catholic. Franco was in power and you didn’t talk politics in the street. Mallorquin was not spoken or written in public. People didn’t know how to write their own language. In total contrast, we came from countries with democratically elected governments. But we were treated very generously.’
The interview finished, we chatted about people we knew in common before I said goodbye to Cecilie and went off to meet Dan Shepherd. Dan is the son of Phil Shepherd, one of the Deià artists.
Phil’s painting Seated Man (1964) hangs in the reception area of Belmond La Residencia. He passed away in 2015 and Dan had come to scatter his ashes off the cliffs below Llucalcari into the sea.
And so we go on.
The book launch takes place on the lawn at Belmond La Residencia at 7 p.m. on Friday 8 June. Copies of the book will be available to buy. The event also commemorates the 10th anniversary of George’s passing.
Photos by Patricia Lozano.