Joaquin Sorolla Y Bastida
Biography of Spanish Impressionist Painter.
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The Bath (1909)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Joaquin Sorolla Y Bastida (1863-1923)

Contents

Biography
Early Life
Early Paintings
Impressionist Works
International Honours
Portraiture
Murals
Collections



Seville, the Dance (1915). Collection
of the Hispanic Society of America.

COLOURS USED IN PAINTING
For an idea of the pigments
used by the Catalan Impressionist
painter Joaquin Sorolla, see:
Colour Palette Nineteenth Century.

Biography

An important figure in modern Spanish painting of the late 19th-century, the Catalan painter and graphic artist Joaquin Sorolla Y Bastida was associated with modern Realism, producing a wide variety of landscapes, genre-painting, historical works and portraits. Sorolla's painting is best remembered for its innovative spirit and for the impression of bright sunlight he brought to the gloomy atmosphere of the 19th century. Characterized above all by vivid colour and vigorous brushwork, it makes him the leading representative of Impressionism in Spain. However, while renowned for his plein-air painting - notably of beach and seashore scenes - he also produced outstanding portraits, landscapes, and historical works. In addition to his easel-painting, Sorolla was a master of illustration, and also completed a number of important mural paintings for The Hispanic Society of America. His most famous works include: Another Marguerite (1892, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri), They Still Say That Fish is Expensive! (1894, Museo Sorolla), Portrait of Dr. Simarro at the Microscope (1897, Luis Simarro Legacy Trust), Sad Inheritance (1899, Caja de Ahorros de Valencia), Promenade by the Sea (1909, Museo Sorolla), and The Bath (1909, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY).

WORLDS BEST PAINTERS
For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.

 

Early Life

Born in Valencia, the eldest child of a craftsman, Joaquin Sorolla, and his wife Concepcion Bastida, Sorolla was orphaned at the age of 2 when his parents died in a cholera epidemic, and brought up by his mother's relatives. His artistic training began in Valencia, where he attended the classes of the sculptor Cayetano Capuz. In 1878, he went on to study at the Fine Arts School of San Carlos. In 1881, he travelled to Madrid and became interested in the great Golden Age painters of the Spanish Baroque - like Velazquez, El Greco, Jose Ribera and Zurbaran - in the Prado Museum. At the age of 21 he gained a 4-year scholarship which enabled him to continue his studies at the Fine Arts Academy in Rome, under the eye of F. Pradilla, the director of the Spanish Academy there.

One year later, he made his first trip to Paris where he attended exhibitions by the rural scene painter Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-84) as well as the more academically inclined Adolph Menzel (1815-1905), and met the painters who worked in the open air, a practice that he took back with him to Spain, and that he assimilated during his stay in Biarritz, where he painted with the landscape painter Aureliano Beruete (1845-1912).

 

Early Paintings

In 1888, Sorolla returned to his native Valencia where he married Clotilde Garcia del Castillo, with whom he later had three children. In 1890, the family moved to Madrid, where over the next ten years he produced a number of serious large-scale works - including history painting, mythological canvases, oriental-style works, and genre painting - which he exhibited in shows across Europe, as well as in Chicago and Washington.

As it was, his work soon attracted attention. His painting Another Marguerite (1892) won a gold medal at the National Exhibition in Madrid, and afterwards first prize at the Chicago International Exhibition, where it was purchased and later donated to the Washington University Museum in Missouri. In addition, he painted The Relic (1893, Museum of Fine Arts, Bilbao) one of the best-known religious paintings of the classical realist genre of the day. These works confirmed Sorolla as the leader of modern art in late 19th century Spain. In particular, his early style of academic art was becoming displaced by a growing Impressionist-style interest in the effect of light, while his range of subjects included those with a strong social content, as exemplified in genre paintings like They Still Say That Fish is Expensive! (1894), a composition that was well received at the Paris Salon and and also brought him significant prestige in Madrid.

Impressionist Works

In 1897 Sorolla painted another masterpiece - Portrait of Dr. Simarro at the Microscope (1897, Luis Simarro Legacy Trust) in which he recreates the indoor environment of Simarro's laboratory, capturing the luminous atmosphere produced by the reddish-yellow illumination of a gas burner which contrasts with the pale purple of the afternoon light entering through the window. This painting, together with a similar work entitled Research, were shown at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts (1897) held in Madrid, and gained Sorolla the Prize of Honour.

Another important oil painting was his enormous Impressionistic style work, entitled Sad Inheritance (1899, Caja de Ahorros de Valencia), which depicted children handicapped by polio bathing at the water's edge. The work earned Sorolla his highest award - the Grand Prix and a medal of honour at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris: an award which was repeated the following year at the National Exhibition in Madrid.

Although this work marked the end of Sorolla's career as a salon artist, his interest in the depiction of light and colour remained as strong as ever. Indeed he was so keen on a number of casual Impressionist paintings, made in preparation for Sad Inheritance, that he gave two of them as presents to American painters John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) and William Merritt Chase (1849-1916).

Although seen as one of the most important Impressionist painters in Spain, Sorolla in fact gave this movement a very personal interpretation, focusing in particular on light, colour, and movement in his figures, as exemplified by 20th-century paintings such as Girl Leaving the Bath and Selling Fish. (To compare Monet's approach to light and colour, see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.) His preferred environment was another defining factor in his art. Children at the Seashore (1903), Beach at Valencia (1908) and Promenade by the Sea (1909) are clear examples of his love of beaches and seascapes, and the intense colours of the Spanish Mediterranean coast. He left a profound imprint on realist artists across Catalonia and the rest of Spain - both landscape and genre painters - to the point where a "Sorollism" movement spontaneously sprang up.

For another important Catalan artist, see Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) the Art Nouveau architect.

International Honours

In 1906, a major exhibition of his works was held at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris. The exhibition, which included a wide range of landscape painting as well as portrait art and other types of figure painting, was a huge success and led to his appointment as Officer of the French Legion of Honour. Other honours he received included his election to the French Academy of Fine Arts, as well as to the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid.

More major exhibitions followed in England and Germany, where they met with slightly less success, but a major one-man show in New York, in 1909, courtesy of The Hispanic Society of America, of which he had just been elected a member, resulted in the sale of nearly 200 of his pictures.

Portraiture

After his New York show, Sorolla spent six months in America and completed more than twenty portraits, culminating in a portrait of the US President Taft. While formal portraiture was not his preferred genre, it was nonetheless an important source of income. It also enabled him to emulate his great Spanish predecessors, like Velazquez and El Greco, and also to compete with modern artists such as John Singer Sargent - see, for instance Portrait of Mrs. Ira Nelson Morris and her children (1911). But Sorolla's greatest portrait paintings were those he painted outdoors, where he was able to combine formality with his love of light and colour. Examples include: the sun-dappled Maria at La Granja (1907), the regal Portrait of King Alfonso XIII in a Hussar's Uniform (1907), as well as garden scenes such as Portrait of Mr. Louis Comfort Tiffany (1911), and My Wife and Daughters in the Garden (1910).

Murals

In 1911, Sorolla paid a second visit to America, and exhibited 160 new paintings at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago. In the same year, he was given a commission to decorate the New York headquarters of the Hispanic Society of America. The decorations featured some fourteen enormous mural paintings. To this end, he dedicated almost a decade to composing a large frieze (eventually entitled The Provinces of Spain) showing the customs and festivals of the different regions of Spain. His work took him to a variety of locations across Spain - including Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, Seville, Andalusia, Galicia, Castile and Leon - and each painting illustrated the landscape, heritage and culture of the region in question. Finished in 1919, the paintings were eventually opened to the public in 1926.

In 1920, Sorolla suffered a paralyzing stroke and died three years later, in August 1923.

Collections

After his death, his widow donated a large body of his work to the state. In due course these paintings formed the core collection for the Museo Sorolla, which opened in 1932 in the artist's former house in Madrid. In addition, Sorolla's work is represented in some of the best art museums in Europe, and America.

NOTE: Contrast Sorolla's Impressionist-style painting with that of the German genre artist Max Liebermann (1847-1935), the Swedish portrait painter Anders Zorn (1860-1920) and the wonderful Russian realist Abram Arkhipov (1862-1930).

 

• For biographies of other Spanish modern artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more details of Catalan painting, see: Homepage.


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