When Joaquín Sorolla first came to Xàbia in 1896, it was to witness grape farmers in harvest as well as the marvelous raisin industry that had taken hold of Europe with its rich flavoured and nutritional snack.

Report by Karla Darocas, Hon.B.A. (copyright 2019)

He had received a commission to create two unique vertical panels to flank a door, of which the particular dimensions were to match. The theme of the paintings were to celebrate the wine industry but the composition was to be presented in a neoclassical or Greco-Roman style, as this was the fashion of the early twentieth century, especially in the bourgeoisie circles.

The patron was a wealthy Chilean, Rafael Errázuriz Urmeneta who was a politician, diplomat, businessman and grape farmer.

The patron became fascinated with Sorolla and his work while on a European trip which landed him in Madrid. He ended up commissioning Sorolla to create a variety of works from 1896 to 1905 including a family portrait.

However, in the summer of 96 Sorolla had spent his vacation at his summer residence on the beach of Cañaberal, an eccentric fishing area of Valencia, where he created many of his masterpieces.

Sorolla was only 33 years old and already had a wife, Clotilde and three children María, Joaquín and Elena. He left them in October to travel down the coast and witness the grape harvest in Dénia and Xàbia.

Painting * The grape press (1897) Joaquín Sorolla (Museum of Fine Arts Viña del Mar, Chile)

His travel led to the research and composition of this panel called the Grape Press.

The composition is presented in a classical way with much of the canvas taken up with the main characters. The man is clad in a Roman or Greek style toga draped over his hardy body. He is using his weight to press the grapes while the child is collecting the juice. The tree that supports the press is probably a carob or olive tree.

As you can see, the grape leaves have their autumn gold colour. They are not detailed and we must speculate that they are indeed grapes.

What captures the attention of anyone who knows Xàbia is the beautiful Mediterranean blue sky on a clear day that highlights the iconic Cape San Martin (Cap Martí)

According to documentation, Sorolla did his sketches of the area and made notes and then returned to his studio in Madrid to create this work using a variety of historical books to draft the press.

The Grape Harvest (La Vendemia)
The Grape Harvest (La Vendemia)

Here is another panel crafted in 1896, again to suit the demands of his patron. Here we find stylized women in Greek robes caught in the act of picking grapes. Again, the landscape is Xàbia but the grapes are not the green Muscatel variety but a dark purple suggesting an Italian or Greek or Chilean types.

Then 10 years later, Rafael Errázuriz Urmeneta traveled to Madrid with his family and commissioned Sorolla to paint a family portrait which he paid an astronomical price of forty thousand pesetas *240 thousand euros. Your would think that at such a price, the painting was a grand work but Sorolla completed it in only 12 days.

The composition combines the sophistication of Velazquez, almost a tribute to Las Meninas, with the opulence of a bourgeoisie individuality.

Errázuriz's Chilean wife maintains the central focal point and axis of the painting. She is surrounded by her flock of five girls and a boy. She transmits a subtle elegance.

The whole group, except for the father, looks at the painter.

Next to him is a bronze statue of the Winged Victory of Samothrace or The Winged Nike  c. 200–190 BC. This piece of art might represent the united intellectual friendship between the patron and the artist as Sorolla has a large marble replica in his studio / home in Madrid.

Since 1884, the original has been prominently displayed at the Louvre and is one of the most celebrated sculptures in the world.