I recently went to the Joaquín Sorolla exhibition at the National Gallery in London “Spanish Master of Light” and I can safely say I was blown away by the beauty of the paintings I saw.
The first UK Sorolla exhibition in over a century, the gallery showcased 58 of his works from throughout his career. An impressionist, Sorolla painted both landscapes and portraits, focussing mainly on the people and scenery of his homeland of Spain. Seascapes, garden views and scenes of Spanish life made up the majority of the art and with the colours virtually shining off the canvas’ I think it’s safe to say that he thoroughly deserved the moniker ‘Master of Light’.
I’m no art expert but after attending that exhibition I think I can safely say that Sorolla is criminally underrated.
In tribute to Sorolla, I’ve compiled the top 10 paintings on show at the National Gallery – fair warning, none of these (gorgeous) images do the originals justice – you can still catch the exhibition which runs until July 7th and it’s more than reasonably priced (save money and book online like I did). I highly recommend it, even non art-lovers are bound to wowed by how beautiful Sorolla’s work is.
10. Salamancans, 1912
People were ooohing and ahhing over the colour contrasting with the black traditional clothing of the Salamancans in this enormous portrait. At first glance, I wasn’t particularly impressed, sure the picture was good no denying it but as far as I was concerned it wasn’t one I was going to write home about. And then I crossed to the other side of the room.
Crowds are the only downside to these exhibitions and the painting on the opposite wall was surrounded, so I turned to look back at Salamancans (which took up the whole of the opposite wall) and was suddenly completely dazzled by the sunlight shining off the gold on the figures’ clothing. I literally saw the painting in a new light and was blown away. The buttons on the male figure were now glistening and the golden stitching on the red sash of the middle figure was shimmering. What makes this all the more impressive? I was in a windowless room.
9. And the still say fish is expensive, 1894
Many of Sorolla’s works depict scenes of maritime work and fishing but none in quite as Biblical a sense as this piece from 1894. Parallels between the injured fisherman and the traditional depiction of Christ laying down from the cross cannot be ignored and make for one of the more memorable images at the gallery.
8. Sad Inheritance, 1899
Sorolla’s seaside paintings regularly feature children bathing and playing, often running around in the nude, and capture the care-free happiness of children in the summer heat. Sad Inheritance is a sombre alternative to this trope. One of the first depictions of children with polio, the painting was captured after Sorolla witnessed clergymen from the nearby children’s orphanage taking a group of young boys to the beach. Unlike the other children depicted in his works these boys are disfigured or crippled. Sorolla himself claimed it was the hardest thing he ever painted.
7. The Smugglers, 1919
What strikes me most about this piece is not the Spanish heat radiating off the canvas or the way the three men have been captured with such life-life precision. It is the angle of the peice, Sorolla is looking down at the smugglers, himself likely precariously placed on the cliffs. The sheer height of the rocky outcrop is highlighted by the circle of birds, far below in the background.
6. Reflections in a Fountain, 1908
When I saw the Monet exhibition at the National Gallery last year I was convinced that he was the master of capturing reflections. After seeing Reflections in a Fountain I had to reconsider. This image doesn’t do the original justice at all since you can’t fully appreciate the rippled effects of the water until you see it up close. And no, it’s not upside down.
5. Noon on the beach of Valencia, 1904
A personal favourite, unlike many of the others featured this 1904 piece was small and unassuming in comparison to the grander landscapes on display. The lighting, the shape of the water and the reflections are all stunning and showcase Sorolla at his finest.
4. Strolling along the Seaside, 1909
Sorolla painted his wife and their three children on many occasions from childhood to adulthood. Here, his daughters strolling across the shore look at though they’ve been instantly captured, just like a photograph. The fall of their clothing, the waves in the background and the evident gentle breeze are masterful.
3. Study for The Comeback of the Fisheries, 1894
This painting was absolutely huge! It took up an entire wall and the level of detail was just mind-blowing. In one image alone Sorolla demonstrates his skill at capturing a moment in time, the use of light and shade, fabric textures and the shape of water. Amazing.
2. After the Bath, the Pink Robe, 1916
Sorolla’s personal favourite apparently, this one is another that needs to be seen in person to truly appreciate it. Only then can you take in the technical brilliance, the pink robe – the piece’s key feature – clings to the woman’s body in places, revealing her body to be damp after bathing. The slightly different colour scheme to Sorolla’s usual beach scenes make this a memorable painting that really stands out.
1. Sewing the Sail, 1896
Possibly Sorolla’s most famous work and for good reason. Even on a postcard there’s so much to admire here but full scale (and believe me, it’s huge) it’s even more impressive. Featuring all of Sorolla’s typical traits (fabric textures, light and shade, Spanish life) this is a painting that deserves to be considered among the greats and cannot be missed!