Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

When I look back on the summer months they shall be crafted from the beautiful and impressionist brush of Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923). A brush that is soaked in sunlight which he then dapples and splashes onto canvases…


Joaquín Sorolla, Sewing the Sail, 1896, Galleria Internazionale d'Arte Moderna di Ca' Pesaro, Venice 2018 © Photo Archive - Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia

This is Sorolla’s first U.K. Exhibition in over a century; a rare chance to see his original work from the 18th of March to the 7th of July at the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery - £16 weekdays and £18 weekends. And in that basement gallery that afternoon sun dapples through the trees in my mind once again, as he takes you back to his beloved homeland; Spain.


Joaquín Sorolla, Young Fisherman, Valencia, 1904, Private Collection © Photo: Laura Cohen

This flourish of Spanish summertime pocketed in a London gallery shows the expanse of his work, from Spanish gardens, seashores, landscapes, and portraits, spanning his working years 1892 to 1920; a collection of 58 paintings are on display.


Joaquín Sorolla, Afternoon at the Beach in Valencia, 1904, Arango Collection Archivo fotográfico BPS

The paintings have an energy to them, capturing a moment that will be completely different one second later - children mid-leap, sprinting on the beach, waves crashing on the Spanish coast and the evening sun sparkling between figures in the shallows.


Joaquín Sorolla, Sunny Afternoon at the Alcázar of Seville, 1910, Private Collection, Archivo fotográfico BPS

Although painting gives time to plan and construct an image, Sorolla finds the most pure and realistic moments - like a camera would. Some of the paintings are constructed as if he is taking a haphazard photo which he only had one chance to get right, a true ode to plein-air, he paints the most realistic image of the day rather than the most picturesque…. Which somehow, in my opinion, makes the meaning of his work all the more picturesque. His impressionist and harsh brushstrokes show not only the scene in front of him, but a vibrant swarm of feelings.


Joaquín Sorolla, María Painting at El Pardo, 1907, Private Collection, Photo: Joaquín Cortés

You might have guessed form the name of this exhibition, and my relentless descriptions - Sorolla is famous for his use of light in his paintings. And if you’re trying to find activities that compliment a summertime weekend mood, this is it.


Joaquín Sorolla, Female Nude, 1902, Private Collection, Photo: Joaquín Cortés

Readers already familiar with Sorolla, or familiar with the art scene, will be thrilled to see the hauntingly beautiful and poignant ‘Sad Inheritance’ 1899; a magnificent feat to stand in front of. And the shadowy, striking beauty of his wife captured in ‘Señora de Sorolla in Black’ 1906, which is usually displayed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York but is now included in this London exhibition.


Joaquín Sorolla, After the Bath, the Pink Robe, 1916, Museo Sorolla, Madrid, © Museo Sorolla, Madrid

From one exhibition to another, I have been spun around in a flood of Spanish light and then sent out into London once again. But like the summer sun that lingers in the evening sky, and lingers on his brush alike, this exhibition will stay with me for a while.



Written by Caroline Louise Hamar.


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