June 2019

The art critic Henri Rochefort said of Joaquín Sorolla’s masterly work “I do not know any brush that contains as much sun”.

Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light is the first UK exhibition of Spain’s Impressionist in over a century. Comprised of 58 works, the exhibition throws a spotlight on the extraordinary body of works achieved by the artist described by Monet as “the master of light”.

Born on the shoreline of Valencia in 1863, the artist grew up in the dappled light of the coast, watching fishermen working in the day’s heat and children and women bathing in the golden light of early evening. This undoubtedly influenced the artist, whose ability to portray natural light is incomparable to anyone else of the time – during his career he produced over 4,000 paintings and 8,000 drawings. Walking the exhibition, one feels consumed by the natural beauty of Sorolla’s vast canvases; the feeling of warm sunlight on your skin almost palpable.

Moving away Madrid at the age of 18, Sorolla vigorously studied master paintings at the Museo del Prado, which visibly influenced him throughout his working life: Inflections of Velazquez’s Las Meninas are visible in Sorolla’s Portrait of American president Ralph Clarkson 1911 and Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus, is also tangible in Sorolla’s Reclining Nude from 1902.

Sorolla proved a huge success in America, earning a large commission for the library at the Hispanic Society of America in New York where he was commissioned to create a series of large canvases that would depict the people and landscape of Spain. It would be called Vision of Spain. This took several years and took Sorolla on a journey across the country, visiting those he would depict. These canvases provided a visual history of the culture of Spain, their colours rich and textured reflecting the varied landscape.

The underlying theme of the exhibition however, is Sorolla’s vast experience and ability to capture light. From his beach scenes of children bathing, the dazzling light shimmering off of their bodies, the deep blue sky reflected in the waves’ rivulets; to the white hot heat of the midday siesta, with children sprawled out on the cool, green grass. Tones of whites and greys work in a melange together to create the most delicate of inflections, suggesting movement, warmth and vitality.

The exhibition also acts as a wonderful narrative of Spain’s landscape, traditions and people. Sorolla’s ability to portray it in such a delicate and sensitive manner turns everyday scenarios and people into extraordinary subjects, bursting out of the canvas, ready to tell their story. 

Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light
The National Gallery, London
18 March – 7 July
All photography by permission of The National Gallery