The Sorolla Exhibition of the National Gallery, open from the 18th of March to the 7th of July, is the perfect occasion to rediscover this dazzling Spanish artist.
The current exhibition at the National Gallery “Sorolla, Spanish Master of Light” has a less ambitious title than the last Sorolla exhibition that took place in London, more than a hundred years ago. In the exhibition held at Mayfair’s Grafton Galleries in 1908, he was indeed applauded as the “World’s Greatest Living Painter”. This overlooked the fact that the young Pablo Picasso was just about to prove himself as the great history-of-art-maker that we know, and that Monet, Cezanne and Matisse were well alive and painting. Still, this small sin of pride isn’t enough to justify the lack of affection and recognition Sorolla’s work has suffered in Britain in the past one hundred years. The exhibition at the National Gallery restores Sorolla as the fascinating and brilliant artist he has always been.
Sorolla, born in 1863, was almost a hero in his native country and in particular in his hometown of Valencia, which inspired his best-known beach scenes. Brought up by his uncle, he worked as a teenager in the workshop of a photographer where he learnt about light by retouching plates, a lesson he would never forget. He later married the daughter of the photographer, Clotilde, who remained his favourite model for the rest of his life. Clotilde’s silhouette punctuates the rooms of the exhibition, and one can recognize her magnetic presence in formal portraits as well as in snapshots of her daily life caught in the moment by her husband. The small but delightful painting Clotilde and Elena on the Rocks in Javea, Spainpainted in 1905 depicts a typical holiday scene with Clotilde and one of her daughters roaming in the rocks of the Spanish coastal town Javea as the sun is going down. In the background Sorolla offers, as always, a stunningly beautiful evocation of the orange sunlight reflecting on the rocks.