Joaquin Sorolla Y Bastida
(1863 - 1923)
Joaquin Sorolla Y Bastida was active/lived in Spain. Joaquin Sorolla Y Bastida is known for luminous genre, figure, marine and portrait painting.
Joaquin Sorolla Y Bastida
Biography from the Archives of askART
The following text is from the Los Angeles Times.
Biography from the Archives of askART
ART REVIEW : The Comfortable Fiction of Spain's Joaquin Sorolla
September 14, 1989
WILLIAM WILSON | Times Art Critic
SAN DIEGO — They say that a happy life has no history. Maybe that goes for happy art too. Take the Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla, an orphaned kid born in 1863. He rose until he was bracketed with the likes of his friend John Singer Sargent as a technical wizard and urbane international master. In 1909, his New York exhibition drew 160,000 visitors. Respected critics larded him with praise, calling him the greatest Spanish master since Velazquez and Goya. Archer Huntington lent princely patronage and he was commissioned to do a portrait of President William Howard Taft. Gogglingly prolific, his first Paris show included over 400 works and reading about his life becomes a relentless tattoo of one copious show after the next. When did the man sleep? When he died in 1923, he left some 4,000 paintings and twice as many drawings. His house in Madrid was turned into a museum.
Nobody looking at that track record then would have assumed that a traveling survey of his work now would be like the exhumation of an obscure curiosity. It was organized by Sorolla's hometown museum the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno and the San Diego Museum of Art, where it is on view to Oct. 29.
What went wrong? Well, history rolled over on him, of course. He was a conservative even in his own day, belonging to an ilk that fell into a historical black hole with the triumph of Modernism. But the work is dazzling. At its best, as In the Rowing Boat, it approaches the compositional crispness of Manet or Mary Cassatt.
The show begins with a rather somber social-realist period in the 1880s. He painted a woman arrested for killing her child and an operetta-esque tableau of a priest defending a poor demented fellow from a crowd of taunting toughs, but you can tell his heart wasn't in it. He's more interested in the staging than the drama. There are a couple of restrained portraits of men in tuxes. The rendering is so lively behind the controlled paint you feel like you can read the flicker of drifting thoughts behind the sitters' faces. It's a clue to Sorolla's real interest.
Sorolla was in touch with the \o7 elan vital \f7 revealed by strong sunlight, and his art is mostly about that. He painted big scenes like Sewing the Sail with a group of happy peasants choreographically arranged around a huge swath of white sun-dappled canvas and framed by pots of begonias. He painted oxen hauling sailing skiffs out of the sea after a day's fishing. The surf gave him a chance to paint the forms solid and then break them up in the water reflections, as if to say he could get better abstract art out of reality than those poseurs up in Paris could get out of their imaginations.
There are moments when he is so brilliant, the idea that he fell out of sight seems as absurd to us as Frank Stella being forgotten in the year 2089. (Actually, that seems a bit more plausible.)
Sorolla loved to paint pictures of naked kids at the beach. In The White Boat, he shows a couple of pubescent boys in the water hanging on to a line from a little boat. The water is as good as a Monet, the scene a bit like the contemporary painter Eric Fischl. Interesting. Fischl's nude kids are sexually charged but Sorolla's aren't. Even the single female nude in the show has no erotic edge. There's an almost disturbing level of detached healthy-mindedness in Sorolla's art that puts everything in sight on the same mental plane. A couple of naked babies crawling out of the surf look like evolved amphibians, and the little girl watching them is just another giant frog whose only claim to higher evolutionary status is a cloth dress and a straw hat. That's interesting in itself but Sorolla doesn't make it into an idea; it's just a side-effect of his fascination with the relentless profusion of nature. That was certainly itself a reflection of his own artistic fecundity. We all look in the mirror of life and see ourselves.
Successful as he was, Sorolla had his critics. He was charged with being all brio and fencing-master attack with an air shaft between his ears where his philosophy, feelings and politics ought to have been. Catalogue essays defend him as a smart, politically savvy man who chose his upbeat style on purpose to celebrate Spain as an enlightened modern nation whose people still had the good sense to live in harmony with nature.
Retrospectively promoting him as an ecological conservationist and local booster has its winsome side in an exhibition in San Diego. It's a perfect show for the town. When you walk out of the museum into sunny faux-Iberian Baroque Balboa Park, the surroundings look exactly like a Sorolla painting and the family ambience of the crowds at the nearby zoo feel exactly like a Sorolla painting. Sorolla was a good family man. If you examine the annals of conservative Southern California beachside art-association art, it is clear that Sorolla was not without influence.
It's nice to see this revival of Sorolla. His art presents a comforting fiction that may appeal to the physical-fitness generation, but it looks like history got him right the first time. There is just too much missing here. As an artist, he lacked venturesomeness and formal rigor. As a mirror of the human condition, the art seems disingenuous. Its vigor reminds one of art from Frans Hals to the Ashcan School but it cleans up its common folk, robbing them of the trashy zing that vitalizes that life.
Sorolla's technical mastery can put one in mind of Sargent, Anders Zorn, Boldini or Whistler, but Sorolla avoided their concerns with elegance and aesthetics. He was probably a better balanced man than any of them, leaving us with the paradoxical truth that--artistically speaking--robust health is a little dull.
A painter and graphic artist especially known for his lighting effects on canvas and rich coloration, Joaquin Sorolla Y Bastida was from Valencia, Spain. His subjects were portraits, landscapes and genre, and he also did book illustrations. He was a plein-air painter, which was revolutionary in late 19th century Spain, and his style was influenced by Impressionism but dominated by Luminism. Unlike many of his contemporaries who were influenced by the abstract movements from France and Germany, he stayed with recognizable subjects, which became increasingly outmoded into the 20th century.
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As a young man in Valencia, he began the study of art at age fifteen, and then went to Madrid where he copied Old Master paintings in the Museo del Prado. Winning a scholarship, he spent four years studying in Rome, and during this time he developed his skills in working with lighting effects.
When he returned to Paris, he discovered demand for his work, especially after his entries in the 1901 Exposition Universelle.
Many of his early paintings had religious and social themes, and he was much in demand for portraits with sitters including Louis Comfort Tiffany, artist; King Alfonso XIII of Spain; and William Howard Taft, President of the United States. But as Sorolla's career moved along, he turned away from that and focused on works with "blinding light and vibrant color", (Saint Andre) many of them being Valencien beach scenes.
In the United States, Archer Milton Huntington, promoting the Hispanic Society of America, commissioned Sorolla to do a series of paintings about Spain. The artist devoted seven years (1912-1919) to the multi-paneled work, and upon completion was exhausted by the intense labor. The next year he had a stroke, and three years later died.
After his death, art scholars and critics tended to ignore his work and its place in art history. However, an 1989 show in New York stirred renewed interest as did a book by Edmund Peel, The Painter Joaquin Sorolla.
His house in Madrid is now the Museo Sorolla, dedicated to the works of his career by his widow who determined that her husband's paintings be left in a way that was accessible by the people of Spain. The J. Paul Getty Museum has work by Sorolla, beginning with a purchase in 1933 by Mr. Getty of ten of his paintings.
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