Monday 19 August 2019

What lies beneath: Fisherman of Valencia (Pescador de Valencia) by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

Fisherman of Valencia (Pescador de Valencia) by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

Oil on canvas Courtesy Private Collection, Mexico City, and the National Gallery of Ireland

Fisherman of Valencia (Pescador de Valencia) by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida
Fisherman of Valencia (Pescador de Valencia) by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

Niall MacMonagle

This warm, sun-filled, captivating painting is of a seaside scene in Valencia where one of Spain's best-loved and most popular artists, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, was born in 1863.

Sorolla, the eldest child, and his sister were orphaned when Sorolla was only two, their parents having died in a cholera epidemic. An aunt and uncle brought them up, and his aunt encouraged his interest in painting.

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At 18, Sorolla enrolled at Valencia's Fine Art Academy and he studied the great masters' work at Madrid's Museo del Prado. Aged 22, after military service, he studied in Rome and Paris and, at 25, he married Clotilde Garcia del Castillo whom he had met when he was 16 while working in her father's photographic studio. For Sorolla, Clotilde was "my body, my life, my mind, my perpetual ideal".

They moved to Madrid in 1890, had three children and he summed up his life, in a letter to his wife: "I paint and I love you, and that's it."

From the outset his paintings were acclaimed. Early work depicting mythological, historical, social themes won numerous awards and were shown internationally.

He painted US President Taft, huge murals for Manhattan's Hispanic Society building, but it is for his landscapes, sea and beach paintings ablaze with light, that he is loved.

The Sorolla Exhibition, curated by Aoife Brady, at the National Gallery of Ireland from this Saturday, celebrates 52 works by Sorolla. It's the first time he has been shown in Ireland and they include a self-portrait, portraits of his wife and children, landscapes - and this painting, called Fisherman of Valencia, though it's more a boy doing a man's work.

Every year Sorolla would return to the beach at Valencia to paint, en plein air, what he saw. These Valencian works are gloriously celebratory, luminous paintings of children on the beach, elegantly dressed women in broad-brimmed hats and flowing white dresses, naked boys lying in the shallows, girls running along the shore.

No cavorting in the waves for this young fisherman. Behind him five young carefree boys play. The sea is just gorgeous, inviting, and the waves and shallows in blues, opal, turquoise, mauve are filled with movement. But beneath his floppy hat the fisherman's intent eyes squint in the glare. He's looking for a sale. With his trim body, his thin arms, the right hand relaxed, the left elegantly holding the catch, he moves before us. At the centre of the painting is the round basket; on the fisherman's left hip, the fish, cloth, sea, their colours all in harmony. Painted when Sorolla was 42, were it not 1904 one could say designer shorts.

In 1920, while painting in his garden, a stroke left Sorolla paralysed. He died three years later and following a magnificent funeral was buried in his birthplace. This unique Sorolla [pronounced Soroya] exhibition opens on August 10 - the day Sorolla died, aged 60, in 1923.

But then, we all know, artists never die.

Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light, August 10-November 3, National Gallery of Ireland in collaboration with National Gallery, London and Museo Sorolla, Madrid

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