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Light fantastic

He was ‘the world’s greatest painter’ and his name is Sorolla, as John Evans reports

02 May, 2019 — By John Evans

Afternoon at the Beach in Valencia. Archivo fotográfico BPS

HIS 1910 oil Afternoon at the Beach in Valencia will alert any visitor to the brilliance of Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, the leading Spanish painter of his day at a time Picasso was still struggling to make his name.

The subtitle of the National Gallery’s new exhibition, *Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light, was how he was described by no less a figure than Claude Monet and hints at an extraordinary talent.

So there is simply nothing adequately to explain how little attention Sorolla was subsequently to receive in Britain.

Yet if this exhibition, with 58 works spanning the career of Sorolla (1863-1923), is an attempt to rehabilitate an artistic reputation, even a cursory look will reveal how unnecessary this is or should be.

Born in Valencia, as a teenager he went to Madrid, and by his early 20s studied painting in Rome, and later, Paris.

On return to Valencia he married Clotilde García del Castillo, the daughter of his first major patron, and the first room in this exhibition features her and their three children, as well as a somewhat sombre self-portrait.

Of the many portraits, genre scenes celebrating Spanish life, garden views, landscapes and his famous beach scenes, in the exhibition, a third are from private collections and another third from the Museo Sorolla, Madrid, set up in the family house he designed and built.

Success came too in America, and here a full length portrait, Clotilde in a Black Dress, 1906, is on loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Other works come from such as the Prado, Bilbao, Musée d’Orsay, St Louis, and Oregon.

For Sorolla’s work was immensely popular, winning him prizes and international prestige. At a one-man London show in 1908, he was billed as “The World’s Greatest Living Painter”.

Strolling along the Seashore. © Fundación Museo Sorolla, Madrid

In the current show we see his early interest in the grit of social realism, including Another Marguerite!, 1892, on loan from St Louis, depicting a woman, under arrest, flanked by two civil guards in a railway carriage (Marguerite being local slang for prostitute); And They Still Say Fish is Expensive!, 1894, shows a badly injured young fisherman receiving help on deck; and Sad Inheritance, 1899, crippled children bathing in the sea.

Moving away from these, a third section of the exhibition looks at the influence particularly of Velázquez and Goya on his work.

In the USA his portraiture was feted, (including that of the president, William Howard Taft, in 1909) as well as his sunlit-filled garden, sea and beach scenes.

From 1911 to 1919 he produced a monumental series of 14 works, Vision of Spain, as a commission from the Hispanic Society in New York.

J Paul Getty was to buy 10 Sorolla beach paintings at auction in 1933.

As show curator, the National’s Christopher Riopelle, says: “Compositionally daring, his increasingly high-keyed use of colour suggests an awareness of developments in modern art.”

Sorolla produced his oils, large or small scale, with equal facility, and has been referred to as “Spain’s Impressionist”.

At the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, until July 7. www.nationalgallery.org.uk

Affordable Art Fair on the Heath

YOU can discover the joy of collecting at the Affordable Art Fair which runs on Hampstead Heath from May 9-11, with works from all over the world on offer.

Alongside more than 100 international galleries and thousands of original artworks at affordable prices (from £100 to £6,000) the fair will host yoga and breathwork classes, thera­peutic workshops, immersive art, and relaxation classes .

It will also shine a spotlight on 10 of London’s most exciting art students in a display curated by Made in Arts London, including Chelsea College student Sebastian Chaumeton. Ahead of the fair, Chaumeton is creating one of his giant murals on the Heath, inviting locals on their walks to give suggestions on what he should paint.

Jonathan Hillson’s immersive video installation We are human looks at the mass migrant caravan that walked from South America to the US border last year.

Illustrator Lucie Sheridan will set up her magic photobooth. For just £20, a visitor will have a bespoke portrait drawn live by Lucie.

At Hampstead Heath, Lower Fairground Site, NW3 1TH. Tickets £8 to £25. For more information, or tickets, please visit: https://affordableartfair.com/fairs/london-hampstead

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