Sr. Bauer, Madrid (acquired from the artist in 1908)
Bou Collection, Rosario, Argentina
Federico Alabern (by 1941)
Galería Brok, Barcelona (in 1980)
Sale: Subasta Sala Reitro, Madrid, June 1996
Private Collection, Madrid
Sale: Christie's, New York, October 25, 1996, lot 97)
Acquired at the above sale
London, Grafton Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings by Señor Sorolla y Bastida, 1909, no. 166
Bernardino de Pantorba, La Vida y La Obra de Joaquin Sorolla, Madrid, 1953, no. 1635, p. 185
Blanca Pons-Sorolla, Joaquín Sorolla, Vida y obra, Madrid, 2001, no. 156, illustrated p. 269
Joaquín Sorolla painted María Mirando los Peces, Granja during the late summer of 1907, while he was working on portraits of the King and Queen of Spain at the palace of La Granja near San Ildefonso in Segovia. For María Mirando los Peces, Granja, the artist's oldest daughter was his model, and he has given María all the elegance of costume and of gesture that was called for by the magnificent surroundings. As she pauses on a stairway edging one of the grand fountains that were the glory of the Spanish summer palace, María turns away from the viewer to gaze down into the pool below (the title tells us she is watching fish swimming in the swirling waters). Against the dramatic demarcation between light and shadow that cuts across the painting, amid the complex ordering of strong colors near and far, María's interrupted movement provides graceful mystery and explanatory structure in equal measure to one of Sorolla's most beautiful, most modern paintings.
The royal commission that brought Sorolla to La Granja to paint the king and queen in 1907 was an important moment in an already exceptionally successful career. Sorolla had established his name during the 1890s with realistic images of historic events and contemporary village scenes painted in a rather narrow palette of colors that deliberately recalled seventeenth-century works by Velásquez; but by the late 1890s, Sorolla was exhibiting sunstruck paintings of the fishermen and bathing children of his native Valencia, large, powerful paintings that won him international recognition. Sorolla's facility with a paintbrush and his flair for manipulating intense, brilliant color brought immediate comparisons to John Singer Sargent and to Anders Zorn, both of whom Sorolla knew and admired. In 1900, Sorolla won the Grand Prix at the Exposition Universelle in Paris and in 1906 he presented the largest one-man exhibition ever held anywhere at the prestigious Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. His fame as a portraitist had brought commissions from most of Spain's leading citizens. Sorolla's work at La Granja was not only a prestigious recognition and an opportunity to work in a new location famed for its beauty; it was also an important personal respite. His family, from whom Sorolla had frequently been separated in recent years because of his work and his daughter's treatment for tuberculosis, was at La Granja with him and his much loved Maria was visibly recovering.
Between sittings with the King and Queen, Sorolla wandered through the royal estate. Located in the mountains above Madrid, La Granja was built by Philip V during the early eighteenth-century. A chateau and a large wooded park are crowned by a celebrated sequence of fountains and pools designed by Etienne Boutelou in the grand French manner. The name, La Granja, comes from the grounds themselves, once the farmlands or grange of an order of monks. With its canopy of trees, dense garden plantings, and the variety of water effects in placid pools and effervescent fountains, La Granja offered Sorolla landscape quite unlike the sandy shores of Valencia or the cliffs of Biarritz where he had worked most recently. Deep shadows, angled mountain light, and the strong hues of rocky structures and the carved and patinated bronze sculptures pushed Sorolla to a range of colors that had seldom come together in his earlier work.
From the fifteen or so paintings of La Granja that are well known (out of what are believed to be 27 paintings produced at the royal retreat), one can sense the sequence of Sorolla's growing mastery of the park's possibilities. The earliest works were probably the dense landscape studies of unfamiliar pine trees and several compositions of young children running through the park that recall Sorolla's popular bathing pictures. Life size paintings of María at La Granja (see fig. 1., San Diego Museum of Art) and his wife, Clotilde Strolling in the Gardens of La Granja (see fig 2., Havana, National Museum), are some of the artist's first plein air portraits and perhaps he undertook them as preparation for the portrait of the King which was also painted in the park against a sparkling woodland background. María Mirando los Peces, Granja almost certainly came late in the La Granja campaign, combining as it does elements of both portraits of María and Clotilde with the artist's most complex use of the fountain space that defined La Granja.
María was seventeen when she posed for María Mirando los Peces, Granja, wearing the same light summer dress in which she had posed for her portrait (fig. 1). In the San Diego picture, María appears as a lovely, confident teenager, just a bit gawky as she leans against her furled parasol. When Sorolla turned her away from the viewer in María Mirando los Peces, Granja he gave his daughter an air of mystery that is further emphasized by the dramatic changes in natural light that cross her silhouetted figure. The ostrich feather hat and Maria's nonchalant stance across two steps are sophisticated echoes of the devices that Sorolla had used for the portrait, but in the context of the grand fountain behind her, María appears a particularly confident lady of style, at home in a suitably regal garden. The wealth of gray-greens and ochres in the foliage that closes off the sky above, and the dull gray-browns of the embankment that juts into the lower right, together serve to focus the viewer's attention on the unusual battle of colors between María's softly nuanced gown and the dramatic rusty-orange streak that flows from the sculpted fountain spout on the background wall. María Mirando los Peces, Granja confidently flaunts Sorolla's masterful blending of virtually abstract form with classical female beauty.
María Mirando los Peces, Granja was included in the large Sorolla exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London in 1908 and sold immediately thereafter. Although never lost, the painting was undeservedly neglected in the substantial literature surrounding Sorolla's art, for only the small Grafton Galleries black and white photograph preserved a public record of this superbly colored picture until its dramatic reappearance at public sale in 1996.
The only known preparatory study for María Mirando los Peces, Granja is a large landscape painting of the Fuente de los caballos en La Granja (see fig. 3), from a position slightly to the left of the viewpoint used for the present painting.
Sotheby's would like to thank Alexandra Murphy for writing the catalogue note for this lot.
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