PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
In the present work Sorolla positions the quartet of oxen four-square in the centre of the composition. The glistening water stretches out before them, the rippling reflections of the animals linking us to their massive forms. To either side the sea eddies. Behind the animals is the great bulk of the red-keeled boat. Laden with the day's catch, it is steered carefully into shore by the four fishermen aboard. Nothing interrupts the focus on the work in hand, no distractions dot the horizon line.
Painted on his return to Spain in the months immediately following his widely publicised exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London during May and June 1908, Sorolla's masterful manipulation of the light, colour and form reflects his buoyant mood. In London he had met Archer M Huntington, traveller, collector and hispanophile. Scion of Collis P. Huntington, part owner of the Central Pacific Railroad, and his wife Arabella, who had acquired Rembrandt's Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer from Joseph Duveen (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Huntington Jr was a born philanthropist. He became Sorolla's most influential patron and his commissions - in particular for the huge cycle Visions of Spain - would dominate Sorolla's work for the last fifteen years of his life.
Most immediately after their introduction, Huntington had invited Sorolla to exhibit at the Hispanic Society of America in New York in early 1909 (fig. 2). Dedicated to the study and appreciation of all things Spanish, and Spanish related, Huntington had opened the library and museum in 1904. Excited by the prospect of his first exhibition in America, during the summer of 1908 Sorolla embarked on one of his most confident and extensive painting campaigns. Painting on Valencia's Malvarossa Beach, Sorolla's subjects alternated between two central themes: fishermen with their boats working the sea, as in the present work, or women and children enjoying the pleasures of being at the seaside (fig. 3). Occasionally he incorporated both themes.
The results were compelling images and immensely accomplished paintings of contemporary life by the sea shore. But in arranging his compositions, he also alluded to Valencia's and the Mediterranean's classical past: as suggested by the nude perfection of the boy and the wet fold drapery of the bata worn by the girl (fig. 3), or in the present work the front four oxen who, pillar-like, support the pedimental form of the white sail that billows above them.
Such inferences speak of a surety of expression and command of his material that conforms both to the cry of the Naturalists - the dictates and subject matter of Jules Bastien-Lepage in particular - and Sorolla's own pride in his native Valencia. Sorolla had been deeply affected by the work of Bastien-Lepage when he was first in Paris in 1885, and visited the French painter's posthumous retrospective. Bastien-Lepage had exhorted artists to be true to themselves, and paint what they know best. In painting the beach at Valencia, Sorolla was adhering to this principle, and celebrating his Valencian roots. But the oblique classical allusions that he made in his compositions also reflected his profound ideological ambitions for the region. As he wrote: 'One of my most cherished hopes is that in the longed-for resurgence of my country Valencia will take the lead in the industrial and artistic movement, as befits it's brilliant artistic temperament.' (Valencia, IVAM Centre Julio Gonzalez, exh. cat., p. 44).
Among the illustrious owners of the present work were the Barlows (fig. 4), their story a classic West Coast tale of triumph over adversity, romance, professional success and philanthropy. A graduate of Columbia University, as a newly qualified doctor Walter Barlow contracted tuberculosis. Determined to rid himself of the ailment he headed west to California in search of the proscribed cure: plenty of sunshine, a good diet and rest. Arriving in Los Angeles in 1897, he opened a surgery downtown to treat patients with the condition, and laid plans for the construction of a purpose built sanatorium for TB sufferers. He married well - to Marion Brooks Patterson, the heiress to a locomotive manufacturing fortune. Aided by his success, his wife's largesse, his patients magnaminity, and other donors (Mrs Victor M. Tyler, the first owner of the present work, is recorded as an early benefactor), the Barlow Sanatorium opened in Pasadena in 1902, and quickly established itself as the city's first large-scale treatment facility devoted solely to consumptives (fig. 5). In 1904 Barlow was instrumental in the foundation of the Southern California Sanatorium for Nervouse Disease in Pasadena, and - as an avid reader - he established a Medical library in his name (his extensive rare book collection is now in the Huntington Library). In 1924 the Barlows commissioned celebrity West Coast architect Wallace Neff to build their dream home: Villa del Sol d'Oro in the San Gabriel Mountains to the north-east of Pasadena. Then Neff's largest house, its facade was a two-thirds replica of the Villa Collazzi near Florence. Following Barlow's death in 1937, his widow Marion donated the present work to the Pasadena Art Museum, where her son was director, in 1946 she sold Villa del Sol d'Oro to the Sisters of St Francis to be used as a school (now Alverno High School), and downsized to live in the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena.
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