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  • It is one of my most treasured possessions, this well-thumbed volume. The cover of the dog-eared old book is long gone. Its location unknown.

    “Gattorno By Ernest Hemingway. With 38 reproductions and a few critical comments” is dated “April 1935” and numbered “#047” of 460 copies on the final page.

    I found it in Antonio Gattorno’s studio at the bottom of a drawer. The signatures of Gattorno and Hemingway are on what had been an inside page before the cover went missing. The pair signed the volume during a party at Hemingway’s house in Havana.

    Years later Antonio laughed as he fondly recalled the last time he saw his dear friend.

    "In 1952 he gave us a party at his house. He said to me, 'I hope gin and rum will be enough. I'm a poor man'."

    The party took place at Hemingway's Cuban residence, the Finca Vigia.

    "It was up on a hill and you had to climb a flight of stairs after opening the gate. He could hear the chains and always popped out to see who was coming. To discourage the tourists there was a sign, 'Beware of the dogs.' But the only dogs he had were a couple of small vagabonds.
    The house was very old and what a view! It looked out over Havana Harbor. Inside it was very stark. Ernesto used an old Spanish table for his bar and there were hospital beds in the bedrooms. Even when he entertained, he didn't care about his looks. He was always barefoot with his shirt open and his pants ragged. But what a host, what a storyteller! He would take the littlest incident and make it the best story."

    "He was the type of person you could sit with for hours and never say a word. But he was also a great host. He could spin a yarn for hours. What an imagination! Actually, there were two sides to Ernesto. He could be both tender and rough. He was very sensitive and would cry easily. But he was also rough. Once I said to him, 'Ernesto, how can you stand to see a bull killed in the ring?' He pushed me and called me a sissy. Another time when we were fishing I asked him about death. 'Ernesto,' I asked, 'what will it be like when I can't touch or see or talk to anyone?' He said, 'don’t think about it. It's like a knockout. Just like when you pass out.' "

    In spite of his rough and tumble nature, Hemingway felt genuine affection for Gattorno. He expressed it eloquently in a letter from Key West dated July 3, 1935. "If you do not hear from me, do not get upset or melancholic. I care for you very much today, tomorrow and always. But I have always had an unsurpassable hatred for writing letters, novels etc. At the same time, I will tend to your book, its sale and sending it up north before I leave for Bimini, B.W.I. the day after tomorrow. Sending you a big hug and hope to see you soon. Pauline sends her regards. Hemingway ".

    Antonio was not the rugged outdoorsman that Ernesto was, yet his artistic drive and his genius were apparent to Hemingway who referred to him as "...a very strange wonder child. The trouble with people who do things perfectly as they go along is that they do not realize that they improve. Gattorno can be much better than he is although he can never be better than he is at the time. He must go on and he must paint."

    Antonio Gattorno met Ernest Hemingway in 1932, at the height of one of Gattorno’s frequent battles with the Cuban art establishment.

    They became close, lifelong friends.

    Ernest Hemingway and Antonio Gattorno went fishing together hundreds of times over the years. Initially they went out on a chartered yacht.

    "At first I got sick many times", Gattorno would say, laughing, "but finally I began to enjoy it."

    In 1935, Hemingway bought his own boat.

    "Before the Pilar was built I had been in an auto accident and was resting at home", Gattorno recalled.

    "One day I saw a taxi cab roll up and out stepped Ernesto. Under his arm was a package. He came up to me and looked me over closely. 'How are you my son? How are you feeling?' he asked. 'I heard that you almost died.' When I finally assured him I was all right, he opened the package. It was the blueprints of the Pilar. 'Here, look at this and see if you want to make any changes. It's your boat as much as it is mine. It's my gift to you for having escaped with your life.'"

    Fishing with Hemingway, according to Gattorno, was a true test of endurance.

    "We would start out at 7 in the morning and begin drinking vermouth on the rocks. Then about 1 Ernesto would prepare lunch. There was always a salad, the best thing he made - plenty of garlic, onion and avocados - and red wine. Then we would resume fishing. Sometimes those swordfish would take 3 or 4 hours to bring in. Then at 4 p.m., we would start drinking Scotch whisky. Some of those fish weighed 600 pounds. Because of an injury Ernesto couldn't stretch out his right arm, but he could work like the devil! He was terrific! Every time I saw him he would ask me, "How are they treating you in that country of mine? Is everything all right with you?' The last time I saw him was in 1955. He was only six years older than me but he always called me 'my boy'. His loss to me is the same as if I had lost a brother."

    Writing and publishing Gattorno's monograph was Hemingway's idea, his way of joining the fight, of bringing up the artillery to aid his friend. Hemingway persuaded John Dos Passos, Alejo Carpentier, E. A. Ramírez and Ramón Guirao to contribute text to the volume. It was published in Havana in April 1935 in a limited edition of four hundred sixty numbered and dated copies.

    Esquire Magazine published the Hemingway and Dos Passos essays accompanied by eight full color reproductions of Gattorno paintings in the centerfold of the May 1936 issue. Dos Passos and Gattorno were paid $250.00 each for their work.

    Hemingway had a deal with Esquire’s publisher Arnold Gingrich, which guaranteed him twice the salary of any other contributors.

    Hemingway and Dos Passos had achieved a measure of success in the literary arena, yet they were still young writers working from job to job. This fact not withstanding, each one purchased paintings from Gattorno, and the trio pooled their funds to cover the costs of the monograph. The Esquire feature provided each man a paycheck and Gattorno invaluable publicity.

    Letters between the three artists reveal that money, or the lack of it, was a central concern at this point in their careers.

    In a letter to Gattorno written from Key West on July 3, 1935, Hemingway asks,

    "Are you aware that the booksellers charge up to 40% above cost? If this is so, you can be sure that your friend Hemingway will not cheat the great painter Gattorno out of money. I will not take a penny. But all these business people are in fact business people. The best thing is that the book is good, so it will sell. If I am in New York, I can sell it on the street and send you all the money. If we have to employ other people, they will have to be paid their percentage."
    GATTORNO is a Cuban painter who is also a painter for the world. He was fortunate to be born in Cuba so that he could leave it and having left it he had the good sense to return to it to paint.
    Now it is time for him to leave it again but he will always return to it wherever he is painting.
    When he first went to Europe he was sixteen years old and had already won a scholarship from the Academy of Paintings of San Alejandro de la Habana. He must have been a very strange wonder-child then, because he I now at thirty-one the youngest person that I know although there is no youth in his painting. Neither is there any age. There is simply good painting which, when it is good enough, is always ageless.

    From “Gattorno” By Ernest Hemingway
    Published in 460 copies by Garcia y Garcia
    La Habana, Cuba - 1935
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