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Sorolla's love affair with America

— October 2014

Associated media

Joaquin Sorolla, Baile en el Café Novedades de Sevilla, 1914 Óleo sobre lienzo, 246 x 295 cm Colección Banco Santander Foto: Colección Banco Santander, Madrid (Joaquín Cortés)

Until 11 January 2015 the exhibition SOROLLA Y ESTADOS UNIDOS is on at the FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE gallery in Paseo de Recoletos. This exhibition is the first to include 150 paintings by Joaquín Sorolla (1863–1923); it follows the fascinating story of the Valencian painter in the USA, displaying some of his best work produced outside Spain and examining his extraordinary international reputation. (See ‘Sorolla’s gardens: visions of a modern Spain’ in Cassone October 2012.)

After building a well-established reputation in Europe, Sorolla showed his work in two major exhibitions in the USA, sponsored by the Hispanic Society of America and its founder Archer M. Huntington. He had tremendous success. The American public fell in love with his beach scenes soaked by the Mediterranean sun, his exquisite Spanish gardens and his sophisticated and elegant portraits. This success had major impact on the painter's career, as most of his mature years were dedicated to exhibitions and commissions related to his American adventure.

Following four years of research, this exhibition offers a unique chance to enjoy a fundamental part of Sorolla's work currently found in the USA. The paintings were kindly lent by The Hispanic Society of America, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, The Morgan Library & Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Art Institute of Chicago, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Saint Louis Art Museum, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, San Luis, San Diego Museum of Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum, among others. Several paintings from prestigious private American collections will also be shown, many of which were located in the course of research completed prior to this exhibition. The exhibition is also generously supported by several Spanish collections, such as Museo Sorolla, Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, Colección Santander and Fundación Bancaja.

Sorolla en Estados Unidos antes de sus grandes exposiciones (Sorolla in the US before his great exhibitions)

The exhibition starts with works by Sorolla that could already be found in American collections before the painter's arrival in the USA. Some of these paintings such as The Port of Valencia or The Carob Tree were acquired by European dealers in exhibitions in Paris, Munich, Berlin and London. Nevertheless, the most important ones arrived in the United States after receiving important awards: in 1893 Another Marguerite!won the medal of honour at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and Sad Inheritance!was given the Grand Prix at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. These early paintings clearly show how Sorolla's work was gradually shaped in the context of the international style evident in all major artistic events.

 Huntington. Mecenas de Sorolla en América (Sorolla's patron in America)

Archer Huntington, an American millionaire who was passionate about Spain, discovered Sorolla's work in London and suggested that the painter exhibit his paintings in the Hispanic Society of America, which Huntington had founded only four years earlier as a museum and study centre for promoting Spanish art and culture. Held in New York in 1909 (followed by Buffalo and Boston) the exhibition was an unprecedented success, with more than 160,000 visitors, 20,000 catalogues sold and extraordinary reviews. This triumph was repeated two years later at an exhibition in Chicago and San Louis, also organized with the support of the Hispanic Society.

Huntington and Sorolla formed an unshakeable partnership from the very beginning. This section of the exhibition focuses on their relationship through a series of works representing its main milestones: Leonese Peasants or Afternoon Sun represent Huntington's first purchases. A series of gouaches outlines the project about Spain's regions that was to occupy most of the artist's last years. Similarly, the two portraits Portrait of King Alfonso III and Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spainreflect the support of Spain's kings at these international exhibitions.

Ryan. El otro mecenas americano (The other American patron)

Sorolla met the American magnate Thomas Fortune Ryan at his 1909 New York exhibition. In the following years Ryan acquired over 20 of Sorolla's works, especially paintings of main Spanish themes. He also commissioned several portraits and some very important paintings. To create the first one, Christopher Columbus leaving Palos, Sorolla travelled to Andalucía to follow the explorer's footsteps and paint nine remarkable oil studies, shown for the first time beside the final painting. Women Dancing Flamenco at the Café Novedades, finished in 1914, is one of Ryan's main commissions and is intended to portray a scene centered on flamenco.

Retratos vendidos en Estados Unidos (Portraits sold in the United States)

Despite the growing importance of portraits in the context of his work, and their high quality, Sorolla did not see himself as a portrait painter. However, he exhibited several family portraits in the USA, mainly to publicize his skills in this genre and to attract new clients. Clotilde in a Black Dress, Clotilde in a White Dress and Maria at La Granja are especially noteworthy. Sorolla also showed portraits of great personalities of Spanish culture such as the painter Raimundo de Madrazo, Aureliano de Beruete or Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, three paintings that represent the beginning of the great portrait collection of distinguished Spaniards at the Hispanic Society of America.

Portraits painted in the USA (Retratos pintados en Estados Unidos)

Following the success of the portraits included in the 1909 and 1911 exhibitions and thanks to Huntington's help, who supported Sorolla in creating lasting relationships with illustrious American clients, the artist received more than 50 commissions to paint respected members of the American elite. Even though most of these paintings reflect the formulae used in commissioned portraits, Sorolla demonstrated his ability to convey the subject's personality, such as Juliana Armour Ferguson or Mrs. William H. Gratwick. The portraits painted in 1911 show more creative freedom than those created in 1909. In Mrs. Ira Nelson Morris and her children, there is a close similarity to the portraits of John Singer Sargent  and Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Paisajes y jardines (Landscapes and gardens)

 Landscape painting is fundamental to Sorolla's work. He developed this genre alongside his consolidation as an artist, and achieved great success among American critics and art buyers. The influence of the Regenerationist landscape paintings, inspired by Sorolla's friend Aureliano de Beruete, coincides with the growing importance of this genre in international painting. Thus from 1906, the views of Segovia and Toledo combine very modern perspectives with the solemnity of Castilian architecture and streets. Moreover, from the time of his first visits to Andalucía  in 1908, Sorolla fully develops a poetic representation of silence and privacy. It is surprisingly in line with the symbolist sensitivity of the time and can be seen in his paintings of the gardens of the Alcazar in Seville and the Alhambra  in Granada.

Mar y playas en las exposiciones de 1909 y 1911 (Sea and beaches at the 1909 and 1911 exhibitions)

Sorolla fascinated the American public with his paintings of the sea and the beach, exceptional examples of his research into light and color. The White Boat, Javea and The Bath, Javea demonstrate his masterful ability to represent light, in this case reflecting off the subjects in the water. Alongside the naked boys swimming in the Valencian beaches, Sorolla shows the cosmopolitanism and sophistication of the beaches in Northern Spain, in paintings such as Lighthouse Walk at Biarritz and Under the Awning, Zarauz.This exhibition also includes one of the masterpieces shown at the 1909 exhibition: Running along the Beach, which is shown together with four studies exhibited for the first time after being located at the Brooklyn Museum in New York during research completed for this exhibition.

Estudios, apuntes y notas de color (Studies, sketches and notes on color)

 At the same time as he was painting on a bigger scale, Sorolla continuously worked on smaller pieces either as sketches for bigger paintings or for the simple pleasure of painting. This exhibition includes 30 of his best sketches shown at US exhibitions, which garnered exceptional reviews and sales results. You can also see the frames designed by Sorolla for these specific paintings. 

Dibujos y gouaches (Drawings and gouaches)

During his visits to the USA, Sorolla was profoundly inspired by the modernity of the big cities and the sophisticated environment of American high society. During his stay in New York and Chicago in 1911, he painted a series of low-angle views from his hotel room inspired by the skyscrapers, and created drawings on the back of menus of customers in his hotel restaurants. These pieces are shown for the first time at this exhibition at the Fundacion Mapfre.

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