LONDON - I have just returned from Madrid following our exhibition there of four Valencian seascapes by Joaquin Sorolla ranging from 1894 to 1910 – The Shellfish Gatherer, Valencia Beach, Return of the Catch and Fishing Boats on the Beach, Valencia. Offered for sale this November, all four come from different private collections, and it was the first time I have seen them all in one place.
For the first two works, however, it was not the first time they had been shown together. In 1911, The Shellfish Gatherer and Valencia Beach were part of Sorolla's second blockbuster show in the USA, in Chicago and St Louis. It is especially timely to see this group of works together as the exhibition Sorolla in America is about to start at the Meadows Museum, Dallas in December.
Joaquín Sorolla’s The Return of the Catch. Valencia Beach, 1898.
America's long-standing love affair with Sorolla took hold in 1909, when he first exhibited at the Hispanic Society of America in New York, when over 170,000 people braved ice and snow to get a glimpse of the work by the artist Claude Monet had labelled “the master of light above all other.” On his return in 1911 Sorolla's reception was again euphoric. Over 100,000 people saw his exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, while the mayor of St Louis courted him about town.
Joaquín Sorolla, his wife Clotilde (in front), with the Mayor of St. Louis, William Starkweather.
The first to appear at auction is the wonderfully fresh image of a young girl hunting shellfish to be sold in the New York sale of 19th Century Art on 8 November. Painted in 1907, the painting is a re-discovery, having remained in the possession of the same family since it was bought by St Louis ‘press baron’ Joseph Pulitzer II around 1912.
Joaquín Sorolla’s The Shellfish Gatherer, 1907.
While our exhibition was on, it was an immense pleasure to welcome Blanca Pons Sorolla, curator of the Meadows Museum show in Dallas and the acknowledged expert on the artist. Unsurprisingly given its provenance, Blanca has requested The Shellfish Gatherer for the second leg of the Sorolla in America exhibition when it moves to the Fine Art in San Diego in 2014.
Joaquín Sorolla’s Fishing Boats on the Beach, Valencia, 1894.
Three further Sorollas will be offered for sale in London on 20 November. The sea defines Sorolla’s production, and his paintings of the Valencian beach and certain key motifs – boats, sails, fishermen and oxen – are the most personal and still the most sought after today. Playa de Valencia, which features on the cover of the London sale catalogue is a quintessential example, painted with an extraordinary sense of urgency, which grew from Sorolla's constant need to record what he saw before him in oil. On a smaller scale, a wonderful example of one of Sorolla’s oil sketches or 'apuntes' is Return of the Catch, which describes with breathtaking economy the busy scene on a beach. Finally with its depiction of two vessels from a low vantage point, the fourth Sorolla offered this autumn was painted in the mid-1890s, at the same time that he first achieved critical success at the Paris Salon.
Joaquín Sorolla’s Valencia Beach, 1910.
It was the unwavering honesty with which Sorolla approached the scene before him that formed the bedrock of his success during his lifetime, and which is very much being re-appreciated today. It is a characteristic that will undoubtedly draw the crowds in Dallas and San Diego before this latest Sorolla exhibition moves to Madrid.