The Bath at La Granja, 1907
In the summer of 1907, Joaquín Sorolla painted in the gardens of La Granja de San Ildefonso, an idyllic setting he had briefly encountered the previous autumn when he went to paint the portrait of King Alfonso XIII. He found the gardens very beautiful to work in. On this summer trip, he enjoyed the company of his family and painted for long days for pleasure and in the fresh air, in a natural setting that invited experimentation.
* Report by Karla Ingleton Darocas. Hons. B. A. (KarlaDarocas.com)
We see here an everyday scene of summer pleasure. On a leafy riverbank, several children are preparing for a swim. One child, already undressed, looks curiously into the water. Behind him, a boy hides behind the leaves, and on the right three children help each other undress. In the background, the sky and the surrounding woods are reflected on the water of the pond, probably El Mar, the large reservoir that feeds the monumental fountains of the royal complex.
In the absence of the characteristic Mediterranean beaches, Sorolla finds in this remote inland place a shore on which to paint and which allows him to continue working on his favourite themes: Children, light and water.
The depiction of children outdoors has been a common theme in naturalistic painting since the end of the 19th century, and the naked body, highly prized for its sculptural power, becomes a recurring motif for artists.
In any case, the theme of the bath serves Sorolla as a pretext to address some of his formal concerns, especially the theme of light. Aware of its aesthetic and emotional value, the expression of light in nature is a constant aspiration of the painter and a common element in all his paintings of La Granja, which form "a series of great coherence in which Sorolla thoroughly studies the effects of the light filtered through the trees".
Indeed, the sun's rays penetrate the branches and form ethereal stains on the surfaces, creating expressive textures. The lush forest vegetation prompts him to use a very intense colour palette, and energetic brushstrokes full of colour enhance the wavering feeling of the shapes on the water, which are reflected in a similarly distorted way as in other paintings he does outdoors.
As a life painter, Sorolla worked very quickly, usually at a rapid pace, to capture the changing effects of light. We know part of his working method in La Granja through the testimony of the girl depicted in the last plane of the painting.
In a press article published long afterwards, Juliana Fernández Pérez, the daughter of the caretaker of the gardens, tells how she posed for Sorolla at the age of eight with her brother Jesús, who was four years younger.
She said: "He gave us 2.50 pesetas a day. We were both very quiet for about an hour because he paid us on time at the end of each day."