Margaret Palmer and Robert Raven

December 17, 2011

Jay Robert Raven with his son Michael, April 8, 1945, Union Square, New York. The photo appears on the website of Raven's son Michael:

In the 1930s, Margaret Palmer was an American expat living in Spain, and working as a local agent for the Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art.  She also was in charge of the Spanish section of the Carnegie’s annual International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting from 1923-38.

In the “Archives of American Art Journal” (26:2-3, 1986)*, Garett McCoy published a selection of letters written by Palmer to Homer Saint-Gaudens, the head of the Carnegie Museum.  One letter, from September 27, 1937,  contains the following passage:

I must tell you, by the way, about the detour we made between Valencia and Madrid, in order to visit a hospital of the American Medical Service.  I was asked if I would care to speak with two or three of the wounded who were American volunteers in the International Brigades.  The first man I spoke to was sitting up in bed, with his eyes gone, and his face badly riddled by a hand-grenade that had exploded in his hand.  When I took his hand and spoke to him, he asked if I had come to Spain as a nurse.  I told him “no,” that I had come to get pictures for the International Exhibition of the Carnegie Institute.  He said “At Pittsburgh?” and when I answered “yes” his remnant of a face lighted up.  “I haven’t missed that Exhibition for six years.”  (If I’m not mistaken, he’s a Pittsburgh boy and went to the Tech.)  “Last year,” he went on, “you had a room of Solanas.  I was much impressed by those serious, tragic faces and when I came to Spain, I was able to understand Solana.  I too know a little about painting and bought a box of paints in France so that I could do some painting in Spain.  “But now” –he ended in a tone of quiet acceptance, and without complaint, “I shall have to dedicate myself to my music.”

In a footnote, McCoy identifies the hospital patient as Lincoln volunteer Robert Raven, who as a wounded soldier in Spain also received another distinguished visitor:  Ernest Hemingway.

*This issue of the “Journal of the Archives of American Art” can be found in the ALBA Vertical File for “Palmer, Margaret” in the ALBA collection at Tamiment Library, New York University.


4 Responses to “ Margaret Palmer and Robert Raven ”

  1. Mike Raven on December 17, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I enjoyed this very much, my thanks to you for publishing this! I hope to someday get to see ALBA in person, with my daughter, Molly Raven, who is a student at Berkeley, CA now.
    Mike Raven

  2. Janet Mulshine on August 11, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    My thanks also for making these events more public. I have been researching the life of this amazing woman, Margaret Palmer, since first reading her letters to family members. She was a distant cousin, whom I remember meeting shortly before her death.

  3. Teresa Cervera on September 14, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    My stepfather, a writer and refugee of the Spanish Civil War, said that he was able to escape from France in 1940 thanks to a kind lady who “bought” a poem from him so he could pay the boat fare. His name (as a writer) was José Ramón Arana. Her name was Margaret Palmer.

  4. Nancy Trotic on January 27, 2018 at 6:19 pm

    The author Ardyth Kennelly, in her novel “Variation West” (published in 2014), includes a fictional character inspired by Robert Raven (starting on p. 546). He was Kennelly’s landlord when she lived in New York in 1964.