signed and dated Sorolla / 1909 lower left
Hispanic Society of America, New York
City Art Museum, St Louis, Missouri (acquired from the above in 1911. Prior to the exhibition of Sorolla's work in 1911).
Sale: Kende Galleries, New York, 25 February 1946, lot 54
Plácido Arango, Madrid
Purchased by the father of the previous owner in the early 1970s
Chicago, The Art Institute & St Louis, City Art Museum, Paintings by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, 1911, no. 8
Liège, Salle Saint Georges, Sorolla/ Solana, 1985, no. 24, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, IBM Gallery of Science and Art, San Diego, San Diego Museum of Art, St. Louis Art Museum & Valencia, Instituto de Arte Moderno, The Painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, 1988-89, no. 52, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Paris, Petit Palais, 2007, no. 20, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Painted on the beach at Valencia in the summer of 1909, Antes del baño combines a rich vocabulary of pictorial references with an economy of means that makes the work one of Sorolla's supreme painterly achievements.
Sheltering from the afternoon sun and sitting on a ledge that juts out from the side of a bathing machine, a little girl is glimpsed tying up her hair before swimming. The inner calm of the child's stolen moment is animated by the bright natural light that glances off the billowing sail hanging out to dry behind her and the sparkling water stretching forth beyond.
Sorolla's ability to capture the spontaneity of children on the beach under the brilliant sunshine of his native Valencia had first been acknowledged in his major painting of 1899, Triste Herencia (Sad Inheritance), for which he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. Sorolla's interest in the motif stemmed in part from his pride in his own family. An orphan himself, Sorolla attached great importance to the well-being of his children María, Joaquín and Elena, born in 1890, 1892, and 1895 respectively. In the years that followed Sorolla developed the theme of children bathing in a manner that became uniquely his.
For the composition of Antes del baño Sorolla drew heavily upon two other paintings that he completed in Valencia in 1909: Niña saliendo del baño and Antes del baño, playa de Valencia. Both smaller, more loosely painted and less ambitious, in Niña saliendo del baño Sorolla maps out the present composition: the billowing sail, the side of the bathing machine, water all around. Only the pose of the young girl is significantly different. In turn, in Antes del baño, playa de Valencia depicting two girls, the girl on the left strikes precisely the same seated pose as the young girl in the present work.
As well as these two preparatory oil sketches, however, Sorolla's composition clearly draws on his interest in photography: the fleeting moment described in Antes del baño, the raised position of the observer and the close cropped edges of the canvas are undeniably snap-shot like in their conception. Sorolla had been introduced to the freedom of expression and the compositional opportunities that the camera afforded the artist when growing up in Valencia. There his early artistic training had been supported by the local photographer Antonio García Peris, in whose studio Sorolla also worked.
With García Peris' assistance Sorolla studied first at Valencia's Escuela de Bellas Artes and then at the Escuela de San Carlos, a fine arts education that culminated in the award of a travel scholarship to study at the Spanish Academy in Rome. These formal studies were reinforced by trips to the Prado when he visited Madrid in 1881 and 1882 and a summer in Paris in 1885 where he visited the Louvre and admired the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage in particular.
In 1895 Sorolla's seminal painting La vuelta de la pesca (The Return from Fishing) won a medal at the Paris Salon, and was purchased by the French Government to hang in the Palais du Luxembourg. Thereafter he exhibited virtually every year at the annual Salon. His links with the French capital brought Sorolla into contact with many of the most influential artists of the day, including fellow foreigners Anders Zorn and John Singer Sargent, as well as the work of the French painters who had defined the modern movement a generation before, amongst them Claude Monet and Edgar Degas.
The influence of the work of both French artists is at large in Antes del baño: Monet in the iridescent water; Degas in the pose and expression of the young girl. Records available do not confirm whether Sorolla and Monet actually met. Sorolla's painting, however, had certainly impressed the Frenchman. Seeing the Spaniard's work for the first time in Paris in 1900, he hailed Sorolla as '... the champion of light' ('un joyeux de la lumière surtout'). For his part Sorolla looked to Monet for the majestic confidence of his paint handling, his ability to fill his canvases with sun, and his talent for describing atmosphere. As for Sorolla and Degas meeting, this seems less likely. Nonetheless, Sorolla would have been well acquainted with Degas' work, a familiarity borne out in the pose and demeanour of the young girl in Antes del baño whose action of tying back her hair Degas depicted again and again in his observations both of the ballet and of women bathing.
The success of Sorolla's audacious composition of Antes del baño, and the robust handling of the paint surface were with good reason. Sorolla's painting of the work followed immediately upon the triumph of his inaugural exhibitions in the U.S.A. in 1909. There, first in New York, then Buffalo and finally in Boston, Sorolla was the talk of the town. At the Hispanic Society in New York he showed 356 works. The exhibition was open from 10am until 10pm every day of the week for a month, during which time 160,000 people came through the doors. And Sorolla received a similar rapturous welcome in the other two cities so that by the time Sorolla left the USA he had sold nearly 200 paintings. An additional accolade was a request from President Taft to be painted by Sorolla, for which purpose the artist lodged at the White House.
Riding high on his commercial and critical success in America and having negotiated future exhibitions of his work at the Art Institute, Chicago and the City Art Museum, St Louis, for two years hence Sorolla returned to Valencia to paint. Exhibited to great acclaim in both Chicago and St Louis in 1911, Antes del Baño then entered the collection of the City Art Museum, St Louis.
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