SOROLLA'S GREATEST CHALLENGE WAS FACING THE LIGHT OF NATURE

"When all the artists painted in the studios, he painted outdoors; when a filtered and conventional light, with the pallor of consumption, he brutally grasped the rays of the sun on the tips of his brushes and fixed them on his canvases."

- Vicente Blasco Ibáñez

Sorolla's intimate friend and inspiration, Vicente Blasco, expressed his opinion on the work of Sorolla in a brief extract from a newspaper that was announcing Sorolla's death. Blasco believed that his friend was one of the brave ones because Sorolla painting outside, as often as the weather would permit. It was the hardest route to take, considering that studio painting was an environment where all elements, especially the light source, could be controlled. 

Even though open air painting was popular in Sorolla's era, he really didn't become fully addicted until after the turn of the century. 

Why was painting outside so exciting and risky for Sorolla?  But also, why was light so important in general terms?

Article by Karla Darocas, Hons. B.A. (KarlaDarocas.com)

From the end of the 19th century, the everyday experience of light changed. Technical progress made light, both natural and artificial, an increasingly accessible commodity. Some major cities had night lighting since the 17th century. Paris was the first, and then Amsterdam, Berlin, London and Vienna. 

As with all inventions, Spain was late, but throughout the 18th century, many cities began to be illuminated with oil systems that were still very expensive and complicated to maintain. 

The decisive change was due to the use of gas. From the beginning of the 19th century, gas lighting began to illuminate street lamps, shop windows and cafes in large cities, making the street at night an increasingly more pleasant, rather than, dangerous experience. In Spain, the main cities began to be lit with gas from the middle of the century. 

But the true revolution in domestic lighting was the generalisation of electric light at the beginning of the 20th century. 

By then, Sorolla had already made a decisive turn towards the outdoor themes that offered him the greatest seductions and visual challenges. 

Outdoor painting demanded his greatest attention due to the variations of light throughout the day. He was confronted by the changing of the seasons, the colour of the shadows, reflections, the sea with its different transparencies in the water, back lighting and of course the difficult range of colour tones on the chromatic scale. In the end, he found all of his challenges were met in the wide spaces of the sea and its beaches.

Legendary art critic, Beruete, wrote of Sorolla work around 1901: "Sorolla saw early, and with great sagacity, what is good and true in Impressionism and in the various phases it presents, and he immediately assimilated it. Thus we see outlaws from his palette, to paintings painted in the open air, brown colours and blacks, not very transparent, which until not long ago were preferred by painters for shadows. On the other hand, their canvases offer a great variety of blue and violet inks, opposed to the yellow and red, with which and the discreet use of white, he obtains very happy accords and very bright and daring colour effects."



Here is Sorolla, in San Sebastian, painting a note impression with his portable paint box and brush, looking very dapper in his modern suit. Throughout his life, Sorolla painted nearly two thousand oil paintings on very small cardboard canvases. He called them 'notes', 'spots', or 'colour notes'. This format was increasingly used throughout the nineteenth century by great artists, as it made it possible to quickly collect ideas or impressions of things seen in independent works that went beyond a simple sketch.



From 1906, Valencia is for Sorolla the place where he can paint outdoors, copying his models from nature, which are preferably people who work or enjoy their leisure there such as fishermen and their women, but also children or young people playing on the beach. The works he does on the Valencian beach meet the best known characteristics of his painting, such as a clear luminosity from direct sunlight. With remarkable execution and speed, his scenes are loaded with dynamism, vigorous visible brushstrokes, often broad but choppy as well. There is a lack of blending and saturated colours, aiming to focus more on the the dominance of blues, sand, orange, yellowish, pink, and white.


The only summer not spent on a beach was in the summer of 1907, when Sorolla and his family moved to the Royal Site of La Granja de San Ildefonso. Sorolla was invited to paint a portrait of King Alfonso XIII in hussars uniform in the open air style.



During the summer of 1909, Sorolla moved to La Malvarrosa beach in Valencia, where he felt a completely happy man. His triumph in Europe had been followed by further success in the United States, and the critical acclaim his work received was only surpassed by its warm reception on the market, which continued to demand more and more paintings by the artist.


Sorolla would acknowledges modern life by painting the holiday life of the bourgeois in the northern coast of Spain and France. Here he is painting the famous painting entitled “Snapshot, Biarritz” (1906). We see his beautiful wife Clotilde, windswept on the dunes. In the actual painting she is holding one of the very first pocket Kodak camera. Sorolla cropped and blurred the composition to imitating a photograph giving the work a modern yet elegant presentation. 


Seen here painting in Galicia, a piece of mural called La romería (1915), you can see a wooden box frame that would help Sorolla sort out his visual clues to piece the mural together after.


Even after his major work was finished and he could relax at his new and modern home in Madrid, Sorolla would prefer to paint outdoors in his beautiful gardens. 

In the end, Sorolla would be robbed of his work as a stroke took his livelihood and finally his life. But, what a life full of challenges and on and off the canvas. A life that we continue to celebrate to this day!