An Appreciation: Joaquin Sorolla
Joaquin Sorolla (Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida) was an internationally successful portrait painter at the turn of the 20th century. However, he is better known today as the leading figure in Spanish Impressionism.
Born into a poor family in Valencia om February 27, 1863, Sorolla was orphaned by the time he was two. He was raised by his maternal aunt and uncle. Showing a talent for art at an early age, Sorolla was enrolled at Valencia's Academy of San Carlos. At 18, he went to Madrid where he copied the works of Velazquez and other Spanish Old Masters at the Prado. After completing his required military service, Sorolla obtained a grant that enabled him to study art in Rome for four years.
Sorolla's early works were traditional in style and tended to focus on history painting. However, in 1885, during a visit to Paris, he was exposed to avant garde contemporary painting. Subsequently, he adopted elements of Impressionism, working rapidly to capture transient light effects and preferring plein air painting to studio work.
While Sorolla clearly became an Impressionist, his work never became an imitation of the work of the French Impressionist masters. You would not confuse a Sorolla painting with one by Monet or Renoir. Rather, Sorolla took the Impressionist approach and made his own style. He combined this style with his interest in depicting narrative and anecdotal themes.
In 1888, he returned to Valencia and married Clotilde García del Castillo, She was to be featured in many of Sorolla's works and together they had three children. In 1890, the couple settled in Madrid. However, they returned to Valencia each year, attracted by its intense light and its lively beaches, which Sorolla loved to paint.
Sorolla's career climbed steadily upwards from 1890. He was soon exhibiting, not only in Spain but in major cities across Europe and North America. In addition to genre and landscape paintings, Sorolla had a steady stream of portrait commissions, which provided a good source of income for the family. Sorolla's portrait sitters included the King of Spain and U.S. President Howard Taft as well as prominent society figures.
His first major succeeds was with “Another Marguerite” (1892), a painting showing a woman in custody for murdering her children. The painting won medals and prizes in Spain and abroad. Sorolla became an internationally acclaimed artist.
Another triumph came with “Portrait of Dr. Simarro at the Microscope,” an Impressionistic portrait, which makes creative use of light in an indoor setting. It won the Prize of Honor at the National Exhibition in Madrid.
In 1899, Sorolla completed one of his best known works was “Sad Inheritance,” which showed children crippled by hereditary syphilis on a beach. The message is intensified by the contrast between this scene and the joyous scenes of people enjoying Valencia's beaches.
Sorolla gave two paintings that he had done in preparation for “Sad Inheritance” to his American friends John Singer Sargent and William Meritt Chase. Like Sorolla, the two Americans were successful portrait painters who also had an interest in Impressionism.
In 1906, a major exhibition of his works was held at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris - - a gallery that had played an important role in popularizing the French Impressionists. The exhibition was very successful and Sorolla was appointed an Officer of the Legion of Honor and it led to his election to the French Academy of Fine Art.
Sorolla traveled to New York City in 1909 for a one-man exhibition. It too was very successful and was followed by six months of portrait painting in America.
In 1912, the Hispanic Society of New York commissioned Sorolla to paint a set of murals entitled “Vision of Spain.” For these, Sorolla traveled throughout Spain, painting its people and landscape. It was an exhausting effort and the final panel was not completed until July 1919.
Sorolla did not live to see his murals installed as he suffered a paralyzing stroke while painting in his garden in Madrid in 1920. He died in 1923. The Sorolla Room housing his murals in the Manhattan building of the Hispanic Society did not open until 1926.
His widow used a large number of the works he had retained in order to establish the Sorolla Museum in the house that they had shared in Madrid.
Sorolla was considered a "master of light" and he often used his skill in depicting the beaches around Valencia (See above). In addition, Sorolla was a successful portrait painter often depicting his wife or his children (below).
Above: Sorolla's first major success "Another Margurite" depicted an incident that shocked Spain in which a woman had murdered her children.
Below: Another triumph was Sorolla's portrait of the scientist Dr. Luis Simarro with his microscope.
Above: One of Sorolla's most famous works "Sad Inheritance."
Left: Sorolla's portrait work included many prominent figures including U.S. President Howard Taft.
Below: "The Rocks at the Lighthouse in Biarritz."
Artist appreciation - Joaoquin Sorolla