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Monday, August 29, 2011

Sorollo - The REAL "Painter of Light"

Children at the Seashore, 1916.

The painter Thomas Kinkade calls himself "the painter of light".  He has even protected that self-proclamation by trademark.  Au contraire, monsieur!  Although you may be a marketing genius, that moniker rightfully belongs to Joaquín Sorolla.

Photo of Sorolla by Gertrude Käsebier, c 1908.

Joaquín Sorolla y Batisda was born in Valencia in 1863, and raised by his maternal aunt and uncle after his parents died when he was two.  He began his art education at the age of 14, and when he was 18 he went to Madrid to study the masters at the Prado.  After his military service, he was awarded a grant to study at the Spanish Academy in Rome for four years.  A 1885 trip to Paris was his first exposure to modern art.

Photo of Sorolla at work courtesy of this site.

He returned to Valencia in 1888, and married.  He was to remain devoted to his wife and three children his entire life.  In 1890, they moved to Madrid.  For the next decade he concentrated on painting large canvases of historical, mythological, orientalist, and social themes.  He also displayed in salons and international exhibitions, including Madrid, Paris, Munich, Berlin, and Chicago.

My Wife and Daughters in the Garden, 1910.

Sorolla's first success in the art world was at the National Exhibition in Madrid, where he won a gold medal for his painting Another Marguerite in 1892.  The painting then won a first prize at the Chicago International Exhibition, where it was sold.  It was donated to the Kemper Art Museum of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Another Marguerite, 1892
Image courtesy of the Kemper Art Museum.

He was acknowledged as the head of the modern Spanish school of painting.  In 1894, his painting The Return From Fishing was held in such high regard at the Paris Salon that it was purchased for the Musée de Luxembourg.

The Return from Fishing, 1894. 

In 1897 he did two paintings about science.  The Portrait of Dr. Simarro at the Microscope featured a friend.  He also painted A Research.  He presented both paintings at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts in Madrid and won the Prize of Honor.

The Portrait of Dr. Simarro at the Microscope, 1897.

His painting Sad Inheritance, 1899, won the most official recognition, winning the Grand Prix and a Medal of Honor at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900, and the Medal of Honor at the National Exhibition in Madrid in 1901.  This painting depicted the results of a polio epidemic that struck Valencia.  The children in the painting are crippled and tended by a monk.  He never produced another work that revealed such a strong social awareness, and this was a fitting end to his career as a salon artist.

Sad Inheritance, 1899.  Image courtesy of this site.

Also at the the Paris Exposition in 1900, he was nominated as a Knight of the Legion of Honor.  Within the next few years he was also honored as a member of the Fine Art Academies of Paris, Lisbon, and Valencia, and named a Favorite Son of Valencia.

Swimmers, Javea, 1905.  Image courtesy the Museo Sorolla.

Valencian Fisherwomen, 1915, image courtesy the Museo Sorolla.

There was a special exhibition of his works at the Galeries Georges Petit, which led to his appointment as Officer of the Legion of Honor.  This show featured about 500 of his works, of all subject matters, and was a financial triumph.  This was followed by two more exhibitions in Germany and London, but of a smaller scale.

The Horse's Bath, 1909, image courtesy Hispanic Society.

In 1908, Sorolla met Archer Milton Huntington, stepson of the railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington and a lifelong friend of the arts.  Huntington made him a member of The Hispanic Society of America in New York, which Huntington founded, and invited him to exhibit there in 1909.  That exhibition presented 356 of Sorolla's paintings, of which 195 sold.  He spent five months in America, painting more than twenty portraits.

Afternoon Sun, 1908.

Portraiture was a profitable venue, even though it was not his favorite.  Since sunlight was what he was interested in (he once said a studio was a garage for storing art, not making it), he preferred an outdoor setting for his portraits.  He loved to paint plein air, and did so dressed in a suit.  He was a prodigious
painter, some years producing hundreds of large canvases.  Using three-foot brushes, to allow him some distance from the canvas, he painted very quickly, which is the reason for his success in capturing light.

Photo of Sorolla painting plein air courtesy of this site.

He went to the United States for the second time in 1911, and exhibited 161 new paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Later that year he contracted with Huntington to do a series of oils on life in Spain for the Hispanic Society of America.  This project dominated the last years of his life, and the scenes were painted on fourteen panels ranging from twelve to fourteen feet high and 227 feet in length.

Huntington had envisioned a history of Spain, but Sorolla had in mind scenes of the provinces of Spain.  Despite their huge size, all but one was painted plein air and on the sites with models in regional costumes.  By his own admission, he was exhausted by 1917, but spend another two years finishing the project.

Two Sisters, Valencia, 1909.

Boys on the Beach, 1909.

In 1920 he suffered a stroke while painting in his garden in Madrid.  This left him paralyzed, which was no doubt unbearable for someone who loved the outdoors and working with his hands.  He died three years later.  His wife left many of his paintings to the people of Spain.  These are now housed in the Museo Sorolla, which was converted from his house in Madrid and opened in 1932.

The Museo Sorolla in Madrid, Spain.

His works are in museums and private collections all over the world, and there are still exhibitions devoted to them.  Unusual for an artist, he enjoyed recognition and financial success in his lifetime, but seems to have become more obscure in time. He is now considered a painter's painter, and actually not merely a "painter of light", but a master of painting light.

Images of Sorolla's paintings do not do them justice.  If you have the chance
to see them in person, you will awed at the size, colors, and light depicted.
Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.
Here is the website for the Museo Sorolla.
This site features his work.
The Hispanic Society of America website.


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