“La Violetera (The Violet Seller), Barcelona” A Sketch

Mar 24, 2017

"La Violetera (The Violet Seller)", 2017, ink on paper (sketchbook), 20x15cm

Yesterday I was downtown and had some time after an appointment, so I decided to do a little work in my sketchbook. The plan was to wander for a bit and draw whatever caught my eye. Anything,  or nothing would be fine too, it was a sunny day and nice just to be outside. I found myself in a small square. There was a fountain with a sculpture on top of a girl offering a flower. I knew nothing about it, or the girl, but I liked the sculpture and imagined there was a story behind it/her.

This is what I discovered. This is her story…

 Raquel Meller, “La Violetera”

The name might not mean much to some people nowadays, but in her time (the 1920’s and 30’s), she was world famous .

Sarah Berhardt described her as “The greatest actress in Europe—after myself”.

Charlie Chaplin wanted her to co-star in “City Lights”, but she turned him down. Instead, he used the song she popularized “La Violetera” (written by José Padilla in 1914) as a major theme in the soundtrack of the film.

In April 1926, she was on the cover of Time magazine.

From Seamstress to Stardom

She was born in Aragón (Tarazona) in 1888.  Her family was one of the oldest and wealthiest in the region, but lost everything during the Carlist Wars. They decided to relocate to Barcelona and start anew when Meller was only 4 years old. Later, her father died when she was not yet 10 years old.  She was sent to a convent in Figueres and placed under the care of her aunt, an abbess in the convent. When her aunt asked her to become a nun, she escaped from the convent with the help of a gardener and his ladder.  The young Meller  returned  to live in Barcelona and worked as a seamstress at the age of 10.  She would sing as she worked, eventually drawing crowds who would stand on the street outside of the dressmaker’s shop. It was at that time that she met the famous singer Marta Oliver, a regular at the clothes shop. Under the tutelage of Oliver, she made her grand debut at the Teatro Arnau in Barcelona in 1911.

Soon after, Meller quickly became famous throughout the Western world, giving concerts in Europe, South America and the United States. She started appearing in films and became an international film star.  She was known to wear slender gold bracelets on her right wrist, each representing a significant step in her stage career.

She died in Barcelona in 1962. The  funeral procession in the city the following day numbered 100,000 people. She is interred in the Cemetery of Montjuic, Barcelona.

“Yo nací en Barcelona, en 1911, en el Teatro Arnau” –Raquel Meller

“I was born in Barcelona, in 1911, in the Teatro Arnau”

Charlie Chaplin, Raquel Meller, unknown gentleman, and May Reeves, at the premier of "City Lights" in Antibes, France, 1931
Raquel Meller and Charlie Chaplin on the set of "The Circus", 1926

“La Violetera (The Violet Seller)”

“Just like the first birds during spring

The violet-selling girls appear all over Madrid

And when they announce them, they are like swallows

They go chirping, they go chirping:

“Buy some from us, young man, they only cost a real

Buy it, young man, buy this small bouquet from us

So you can display them on your lapel”

“Here you have me

I won’t brag about being pretty or beautiful

But if I wished to I could soon stop being

The violet-selling girl, the violet-selling girl”

Drawing is Discovering

One of the joys of drawing and sketching is discovering through looking. The discovery may be a person, a place, or as is depicted in this sketch, a sculpture dedicated to a very special singer/actress from a bygone era, the cultural scene she inhabited during her time here and some of the people she knew who were part of her world. I enjoy sharing these discoveries and am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

Thanks for your time!


Robert (Bob) Froh

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