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Exhibition Review – Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light at the National Gallery from 18 March to 7 July 2019

The National Gallery presents the first major exhibition in the United Kingdom for over a century of the Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923). The exhibition entitled Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light include portraits, landscapes, garden views, and beach scenes. There are sixty works on display which spans the artist’s career, including important works on loan from public and private collections in Europe and the United States.

This will be the first UK retrospective of the artist since 1908 when Sorolla himself mounted an exhibition at London’s Grafton Galleries where he was promoted as The World’s Greatest Living Painter. Sorolla is best known for his sun-drenched depictions of the life, landscapes and traditions of Spain, as well as his gifts as a portraitist.

Sorolla studied in Madrid and Rome and gained an international reputation for works tackling social subjects. The exhibition features a series of his early social paintings including his The Return from Fishing (1894), Sewing the Sail (1896) and Sad Inheritance! (1899).

The first room includes portraits of Sorolla’s wife Clotilde as well as his daughters María and Elena, and son Joaquín. Family played a very important role in Sorolla’s life and his family are used as models. In this room is also Sorolla’s reclining Female Nude (1902) which was inspired by Velázquez’s ‘Rokeby Venus’ (1651).

The second room focuses on the 1890s, when Sorolla began to document some the realities and hardships of Spanish life. His first great success, Another Marguerite! (1892) depicted a woman arrested for murdering her child. His other large works from this period were sent to exhibitions across Europe and were part of the reason he gained an international reputation.

The third room illustrates how Sorolla considered himself as part of great tradition of Spanish artists such as Velázquez and Goya, whose works he closely studied. The influence of Velázquez is clearly shown in the portrait of the American painter Ralph Clarkson of 1911, My Children (1904) and The Drunkard (1910).

Room Four introduces viewers to some of Sorolla’s best known work, Boys on the Beach (1909), Running along the Beach, Valencia (1909) and Afternoon at the Beach in Valencia (1904) are examples of how Sorolla manages to capture the sunlight and the sea and people’s enjoyment of a day at the beach. Sorolla had grown up by the coast and would often paint out-of-doors, documenting the various scenes on the beaches close to Valencia and Jávea. These scenes proved very popular especially in the United States and led to a number of commissions.

Room Five contains one of these commissions for the Hispanic Society of America in New York in 1911. He created a large mural-like series of paintings entitled Vision of Spain. Painted between 1911 and 1919, they documented some of the country’s regional dress, occupations, and traditions.

The sixth room of the exhibition is devoted to Sorolla’s views of landscapes and gardens. Sorolla’s love of the outdoor life and search for interesting lighting led him to create a range of studies ranging from Sierra Nevada from the Cemetery, Granada (1909), Burgos Cathedral under Snow, and the gardens of the Alcázar in Seville and the Alhambra in Granada.

The final room illustrates Sorolla’s fascination with family, but in contrast the formality of the first room, we have large canvases painted out-of-doors such as Skipping Rope, La Granja (1907),Strolling along the Seashore (1909) and The Siesta (1911). In these paintings, Sorolla had finally found his own style which celebrated family and the enjoyment of the outdoor life.

Sorolla died in 1923 and his reputation went into something of a decline, there are very few paintings by Sorolla in UK public collections. However, this interesting exhibition provides evidence that Sorolla excelled in creating large canvases that takes viewers to the beach or other outdoor locations and captures the light, life and movement. In many ways it was when he came out of the shadows of Velázquez and Goya that he found his true voice that has some similarities with Impressionism.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and tickets, visit the National Gallery website here

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