Actualitat, Art, Artistes

Sorolla: the light of water

5 de September de 2023

Sorolla: the light of water

By Àlex Salas

One hundred years ago on 10 August, the illuminist was extinguished on the outskirts of Madrid. Joaquín Sorolla, needing little introduction, was a highly acclaimed artist during his career as a painter. Many biographies of Sorolla have been written, his art has been discussed in many books and hours of documentaries have been recorded. For this reason, today’s article only deals with two works, which bear witness to Sorolla’s passion for coastal life. So, I invite you to enjoy Sorolla’s way of treating the light of salty water.
The Return from Fishing and The Boys on the Beach are by far two of my favourite works. Now that summer is slowly falling asleep, I think of his seascapes, full of the rays of a still innocent and optimistic Mediterranean. Talent and beauty cover each of the artist’s canvases. Although, in his production it is remarkable the great quantity of paintings about costumbrist themes of other areas of Spain. The paintings I am writing about today are representative of the work of the Valencian illuminist. I have decided to talk about them because of how special it was the first time I visited the rooms in which they are exhibited. A magnetic attraction felt in my gaze, the moment in which I found my attention captured in the immensity of the canvases. Temporarily, however, I must point out that both pieces are on display at the Royal Palace in Madrid until 24th September. “Sorolla through light”. This is the name given to the monographic exhibition that commemorates the artist’s career. From our online Magazine space I thought of writing Sorolla through water.
The dimensions of the support of the boys stretched out on the waves of the Valencian coast caught me by surprise in the centre of Madrid. Making the previous night’s drunkenness the excuse for a contemplative attitude, with my -still valid- student card, my steps lost and my legs tired from the party, I ended up in the halls of the Prado National Museum. There, in a city far from the Mediterranean Sea, the spangles of those smiling bodies, rushed at me. The ochres and marine greens transmuted time and space and transported me in a limbo of sand between my toes and windblown nightdress. Of course, this is also art, knowing how to turn the surroundings of the beholder. Capturing within the painting the tiny body, planted and embraced in front of the hudge oil painting.
It has been said that Sorolla was an avant-gardist on horseback with classicism. If we take as a reference the painting of The Pink Robe gown and his stays at the academies in Rome and later in Paris, it is clear that his classical training was powerful. Moreover, Sorolla’s personal admiration for Velázquez, reflected throughout his portrait work, but also in his exchanges of letters, gave his Impressionism an air of embryonic avant-garde. Evidently, both circumstances had a great impact on his understanding of painting. I overemphasise that Sorolla was not only a Classicist, nor a visionary Avant-gardist in his use of material, but also an All-over painting forerunner. Faced with the format of 118 centimetres high by 185 centimetres wide, what I saw was a preceptor of the American expressionists. It is said that the dimensions of a painting have to be taken into account in order to be able to make a thematic reading. Throughout the history of art, large paintings have been granted to historical narrative, to the full-length portrait of a great political or military representative, to national allegories, among others. But how much surface area is necessary and sufficient to show the enthusiasm of our marine nostalgia? Especially for those of us who live far away from the stirring of salt water. At the beginning of September, one suspects the longing for the afternoon swim after a summer’s day, for the rude laughter that leaves the neighbours’ towels full of sand. It is then that we understand that the waves and the bathers, a still life of a bare bottom, take on the dimensions of a natural scale.
The painter made the splash of light and routine coastal life the tool for the narration of a series of works. Among which is The Return from Fishing. Slipping away from the sculpture terrace of the Musée d’Orsay to Paris, I came across the painting The Return from Fishing. Monumental, the portrait of a boat splashing the fishermen, and of oxen eager for a siesta struggling against the vigorous foam. The whole is counterbalanced and, at the same time, accompanied by the lightness of the sail, tautened by the wind. Once again, from Paris, in a capital far from the Mediterranean Sea, Sorolla shouted to me the longing for the summer that is now coming to an end. Empathising with the fatigue of work, facing the white clarity of the sea at the foot of the sail, I die of thirst for a swim in the Empordà.
Now that it is September, we return to the routine, we return to the uses and customs that at first seem strange to us, but later will become home. It may seem to us a mocking irony, a naive gesture, the positivism and lightness of this luminous water that surrounds the fishermen returning tired from a day’s work. In fact, 265 cm by 403.5 cm, it is a size comparable to the painting of the Firing Squad on the 3rd of May, or what remains of Rembrandt’s Night Watch, would catch the irony whoever is in the mood. But we can also see it as a pat on the back from Sorolla to all of us who are returning to work, the illuminist, with a painting of lavish dimensions, encourages us to be optimistic and to reward ordinary work. Next year the summer returns, hopefully a little cooler.