Lot 76
  • 76

Joaquín Sorolla

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • Barcas en la playa (boats on the shore)
  • signed and dated J. SOROLLA / 1909 lower right
  • oil on canvas
  • 56 by 94cm., 22 by 37in.


Probably aquired either from José Artal or Justo Bou by the present owner circa 1926


Buenos Aires, Institución cultural Española, Sorolla. su obra en el arte español y sus obras en la Argentina, 1942, no. 1098, illustrated


Bernardino de Pantorba, La vida y obra de Joaquín Sorolla, Madrid, 1970, p. 170, catalogued
Ana María Fernández García, Catálogo de pintura española en Buenos Aires, Universidad de Oviedo, 1997, p. 171, no. 574, illustrated


This condition report has been provided by Hamish Dewar, Hamish Dewar Ltd. Fine Art Conservation, 14 Masons Yard, Duke Street, St James's, London SW1Y 6BU. Structural Condition The canvas is unlined on the original keyed stretcher. The canvas is rather slack so it would be beneficial to replace the one missing stretcher-key and tighten the canvas to ensure an even and secure support. There is no evidence of any structural intervention in the past. Paint surface The paint surface has a characteristically dry surface and it is obviously very encouraging to find the paint surface it it's original state. No retouchings are visible under ultra-violet light, but inspection under ultra-violet light does suggest that paint surface would benefit from surface cleaning. There is one extremely small fracture line in the pale purple pigment of the small boat on the right of the composition. There is a very slight indentation and tiny flecks of paint loss. This could be locally stabilised with the most minimal intervention. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in excellent condition requiring minimal intervention.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Sorolla's vibrant and atmospheric painting of fishing boats returning with their catch to Malvarrosa beach in Valencia was painted during the summer of 1909. It followed his triumphant solo exhibition in New York. This was his first exhibition in the USA and the inaugural exhibition at Archer Huntington's recently completed Hispanic Society of America. Critical and popular acclaim in America brought him both fame, fortune and the commission to paint President Taft at the White House.

Following his American sojourn Sorolla returned to Spain brimming with energy and enthusiasm. Commenting on his resultant output Blanca Pons Sorolla notes: 'Some of his most spectacular beach scenes come from this summer. His paintings reflect the joy of living...' (Blanca Pons Sorolla, Joaquín Sorolla, London, 2005, p. 204). 

Sorolla was fiercely proud of his Valencian roots. It was here that he was born and brought up by his aunt and uncle after being orphaned at the age of two; here that he studied painting, and here that he fell in love with his wife to be, Clotilde. Although he subsequently settled in Madrid with his family, to Sorolla Valencia was where he could relax and feel at home, and it was while painting the sea and the struggles of the Valencian fishing community that he evolved his fluid painterly style and brilliant palette.

Returning to the city year after year, Valencia came to represent for Sorolla a new Spanish dawn following the loss of the country's colonies at the end of the 19th century. In contrast to the Generación '98 and the painters associated with it who pondered Spanish history and Spain's dark folkloric traditions, Sorolla sought a fresh, bright and specifically Mediterranean future that would restore national optimism.

Whilst in America Sorolla trumpeted Spain's modern credentials: 'We have the modern Spain now, with its railroads, wireless telegraph... Spain having lost her colonies must develop her own great  resources and compete in the markets of the world.' Continuing his theme he wrote: 'One of my 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 its brilliant tradition and its inborn artistic temperament' (quoted by Carmen Gracia, 'Sorollism, a Unique Adventure', in The Painter, Joaquín Sorolla, exh. cat, London, 1989, pp. 43 & 44).

In the present work the majesty of the Valencian fishing vessels under full sail, the spontaneity of the children who gambol in the sea, and the brilliance of the light reflected off the rippling water clearly suggests Sorolla's confidence and optimism in Valencia's future. The Arcadian image that he evokes was commented on by writers of the day. Poet Juan Ramón Jiménez pointed out that: 'He works with his Spanish paint brushes and finds all he needs, the soul of an entire country. Thus there begins a series of pictures of his native land - toil, sweat, poverty and sunshine, the Greek splendour of the Mediteranean coast, and the thundering of its blue sea, the Florentine grace of Valencia, all that profusion of foam and transparencies, breezes and flowers, that incomparable noisy chorus of women, children and Spanish sailors.' (Gracia, p. 44 & 45).

Sorolla's confident brushstrokes and his ability to capture the mood of the moment with such apparent ease is a reflection of both his academic training and his exposure to contemporary European painting. Sorolla studied first in the Escuela de Bellas Artes, Valencia and subsequently in Rome from 1885-88, having been awarded a grant by the Diputación de Valencia. Like most artists of the day, however, it was to Paris that Sorolla naturally gravitated. He first travelled there in the spring of 1885 where he visited the Salon des Artistes Français, and discovered the work of Naturalist painters Jules Bastien-Lepage and Adolf von Menzel. He was in Paris again in 1889 to visit the Exposition Universelle and once more in June 1891, when he may well have caught the end of Claude Monet's exhibition of his Haystacks series at Galerie Durand-Ruel. 

Recognition of Sorolla's own painterly abilities within France followed swiftly thereafter. In 1895 the artist's major submission to the annual Paris Salon, La Vuelta de la pesca, was purchased by the French State. In 1900 Triste herencia was awarded the Grand Prix at the Exposition Universelle and Monet himself heralded Sorolla as 'the master of light'. Such accolades brought Sorolla into contact with his notable contemporaries, in particular Anders Zorn, John Singer Sargent, and Peder Severin Krøyer, all of whom had an influence on each other's work.

But Sorolla really became a critical and popular success as a result of the series of major one-man exhibitions that he staged in France, Germany, Britain and the USA between 1906 and 1911. He launched his first show in Paris in 1906 at Galerie Georges Petit. 450 works were exhibited to great acclaim. The following year an exhibition of 280 works were shown in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Cologne and in the spring of 2008 he showed 280 works at the Grafton Gallery in London. Following his introduction there to Archer Huntington, plans were laid for the blockbuster exhibition of his work in New York a year later. Lauded by the critics, and showered with praise from the public, eulogy followed eulogy. Reviewing his 1909 exhibition at the Hispanic Society, James Gibbons Hunecker described him as 'the painter of vibrating sunshine without equal. Let there be no mincing of comparisons under this assertion. Not Monet, not Turner, painted so directly blinding shafts of sunlight as has this Spaniard' (quoted by Edmund Peel in The Painter, Joaquín Sorolla, exh. cat, London, 1989, p. 13).

Sorolla's consummate mastery of painterly technique was matched by his absolute urge to weald the brush. Blanca Pons Sorolla has noted: '....[Sorolla] simply could not survive without painting... As Sorolla himself would say: "I paint because I love painting. For me it is an immense pleasure"' (Blanca Pons Sorolla, p. 276). The fruits of his labour - his compulsion and his passion over many years - are clearly evident in the present work: in the bravura brushstrokes, the liquid paint surface, his striking use of colour and his evocation of the sun, sea, sand and sails on the Valencian shore.

FIG. 1, Joaquín Sorolla painting Setting Sun on Malvarrosa beach, summer 1901, photograph, Private collection

FIG. 2, Joaquín Sorolla, Sails, 1915, oil on canvas, Museo Sorolla, Madrid