Although outdoor painting was very popular in Sorolla's day, it was only after the turn of the century that he really became addicted to it. Why was painting outdoors so exciting and risky for Sorolla? But also, why was light so important in general?  Do you want to understand more? 

Article by Karla Darocas, Hons. B.A. ( (C)

"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

Vicente Blasco, Sorolla's close friend and inspiration, commented on Sorolla's work in a short extract from a newspaper announcing Sorolla's death. Blasco believed that his friend was one of the brave ones because Sorolla painted outside as often as the weather allowed. This was the most difficult way, considering that studio painting was an environment where all the elements, especially the light source, could be controlled 

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 large cities had night lighting as early as the 17th century. Paris was the first, followed by Amsterdam, Berlin, London and Vienna 

As with all inventions, Spain was late, but during the 18th century many cities began to be lit with oil systems, which were still very expensive and complicated to maintain 

The decisive turning point came with the use of gas. From the beginning of the 19th century, street lamps, shop windows and cafés in the major cities were lit with gas, which made nighttime activity on the streets increasingly pleasant and no longer so dangerous. In Spain, the main cities were lit with gas from the middle of the century onwards.

The real revolution in domestic lighting, however, was the general introduction of electric light at the beginning of the 20th century.

By this time Sorolla had already made a decisive turn towards the outdoor subjects that offered him the greatest temptations and visual challenges 

Painting outdoors required his greatest attention because of the changes in light throughout the day. The change of seasons, the colour of shadows, reflections, the sea with its different transparencies in the water, backlighting and of course the difficult palette of hues on the chromatic scale presented him with challenges. In the end, he found that all his challenges were solved in the vast spaces of the sea and its beaches.

Legendary Spanish intellectual, landscape painter, politician and art critic Aureliano de Beruete (1845 - 1912) , 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 Sorolla is seen in San Sebastián painting a note impression with his portable paint box and brush, looking very elegant in his modern suit. 

Over the course of his life, Sorolla painted nearly two thousand oil paintings on very small cardboard canvases. He called them 'notes', 'stains' or 'colour notes'. This format was increasingly used by great artists during the nineteenth century, as it offered the possibility of quickly gathering ideas or impressions of things seen in independent works that went beyond a simple sketch.

From 1906 onwards, Valencia is the place for Sorolla to paint outdoors, copying his models from nature. These are preferably people working or enjoying their leisure time there, such as fishermen and their wives, but also children or young people playing on the beach. 

The works he paints on the Valencian beach fulfil the most well- known characteristics of his painting, such as a clear luminosity due to direct sunlight. With remarkable execution and speed, his scenes are full of dynamism, with strong, visible brushstrokes, often broad but also choppy. 

There is a lack of blending and saturated colours to focus more on the dominance of blue, sand, orange, yellow, pink and white.

The only summer he did not spend on the beach was the summer of 1907, when Sorolla moved with his family to the royal site of La Granja de San Ildefonso. Sorolla was invited to paint a portrait of King Alfonso XIII in hussar uniform in the open air style.

In the summer of 1909 Sorolla moved to the beach at La Malvarrosa in Valencia, where he felt a happy man. His triumph in Europe was followed by further success in the United States, and the acclaim his works received from critics was matched only by the warm reception they received on the market, which demanded more and more of the artist's paintings.

Sorolla pays tribute to modern life by painting the holiday life of the bourgeoisie on the north coast of Spain and France. Here he paints the famous painting entitled Snapshot, Biarritz (1906). 

We see his beautiful wife Clotilde relaxing in the dunes. In the painting she is holding one of the very first Kodak pocket cameras. Sorolla cropped and blurred the composition to imitate a photograph and give 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 completed, and he could relax in his new and modern house in Madrid, Sorolla preferred to paint outdoors in his beautiful gardens 

In the end, Sorolla was robbed of his work when a stroke took his livelihood and eventually his life. But what a life full of challenges, on and off the canvas. A life we celebrate to this day!

Resource Books written by
Karla Ingleton Darocas 
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