When the email arrived from the National Gallery saying there was only a few weeks left for the exhibition of Joaquin Sorolla’s works, I thought I would pop down to check it out as I missed out on going to his museum in Madrid last year.
The reviews I read were luke warm, but I would prefer to see for myself.
What I found didn’t blow me away, if I’m honest. But it had its moments. There is no doubt that he really knew how to work light into his scenes, so technically there was brilliance, particularly in this, Sewing the Sail from 1896:
This had so much joy pouring from it, it did not fail to brighten your spirits too. Light bounces off the sail as it pours down the canvas. Even the people working on it look delighted to be there:
The interplay of light and shade work wonderfully in this, After the Bath, the Pink Robe. But, I had a problem with it and it was when I saw the date: 1916. This reminded me of artists such as Alma-Tadema, firmly rooted in the 19th century, and yet, we were going through the nicer and infancy of modern art and Sorolla did not seem to have been overly touched by the influences. Although this later work of his wife, daughters and friend did have a touch of the Impressionists about it:
You could also see it a little in how Sorrolla could really paint white in Mother, the work he did of his wife and newborn. It made me think of Monet:
This is quite beautiful; the faces reflect the light and the way they are cocooned in the bedclothes gives this such a tender appearance. It seems quite brave to make the majority of the painting a study in how to paint one colour, but it is gorgeous.
What was funny is that it was placed on the wall next to this:
This is also a portrait of his wife, Clothilde. Sorolla painted his family in a variety of ways and he was clearly devoted to his beautiful wife. This painting was inspired by his visit to see the Rokeby Venus but it is even more beautiful!
The way in which he uses grey/green flesh tones works wonderfully against the pink satin sheets. Various hues of pink, lilac, and purple work together to bounce light around her shapely body. It would have been wonderful to take closeups of his paintwork here, as it is not smooth at all, even though it gives that impression. The zig-zag effect to create the edge of the divan was stunning.
While you cannot help but admire her curvaceous form, you should take a closer look at her foot. There is something so delightful in the deep colour that contrasts with the other flesh tones
This painting was worth the trip alone.
Once past these, however it did fall away a little and became rather safe in subject matter and repetitive in style for my taste.But, there were some excellent pieces amongst the rest.
We learnt that Sorolla was greatly influenced by both Velazquez and Goya in his portraiture. Another stunning portrait of his wife, with the tiniest waist, even after three children brings a touch of Goya to the proceedings. The photograph of him painting her was included, perhaps to prove he wasn’t exaggerating the waspish outline!
Sorolla did make paintings of social realism, and he declared that the truth is in the representation. The next two lived up to that creed.
The title of this one, And they still say fish is expensive! throws criticism at the practices of the fishing industry at that time and the inherent dangers. This won awards, unsurprisingly, and was praised for its religious quality.
One of his most famous canvases was the huge Sad Inheritance:
Awareness of the effects on the children of alcoholics and those who contracted syphilis was becoming widely known. This was a scene Sorolla witnessed and felt drawn to portray. However, the strain of the subject matter and the physical exertion needed caused Sorolla to declare that he would never paint anything like it again. The contrasts of the priest’s clothing against the pale skin of the boys was startling and emphasised their fragility, especially when you looked out towards the horizon and the deep, brooding blues of the sky and sea. It is quite a difficult scene to take in, so understandable that Sorolla was reluctant to explore these themes further.
Amongst all the landscapes and beach scenes, another stand out was this gorgeous landscape, Sierra Nevada from the Cemetery, Granada from 1909.
It put me in mind of David Bomberg’s landscapes with the rough handling and rich colours.
Having missed out on visiting his museum in Madrid, it was worth seeing this exhibition. While my tastes are more towards the dark and melancholic, there was a “feel good” element to it, and if you needed cheering up, Sorolla is a welcome tonic.