Lavinia Steward (acquired from the artist in 1906)
Thence by descent
"Joaquín Sorolla," The Studio, London, June 15, 1906, no. 11, illustrated
Bernardino de Pantorba, La Vida y la Obra de Joaquin Sorolla, Madrid, 1953, no. 1481, catalogued
While his beautiful young daughters Maria and Elena dozed in the warm afternoon sun, Joaquín Sorolla captured this sparkling glimpse of the garden and sea coast that his family enjoyed during his summer painting campaign of 1904. Already well known and internationally acclaimed for his pictures of the fishing folk of his native Valencia, Sorolla was determined during the early years of the new century to expand his subject matter and to broaden the audience for his light-filled paintings. Lost from public view for a hundred years, La Siesta provides a delightful and telling peek into Sorolla's careful effort to add garden themes, outdoor portraiture, and the every day life of a more privileged Spanish community to the realm of his already-acknowledged mastery.
La Siesta is set in Alcira, a small farming village above the Valencian coast, and probably depicts the property Sorolla rented while painting daily on the shores below. Sorolla often produced small landscape studies as a step toward composing a larger painting, but in La Siesta, the complex architecture of the arbor, the lush and varied greens of the vines and grasses, and the bouncing light of the unseen sun are the closely observed motives of a complete painting in their own right. Although Sorolla has given his daughters, Maria Clotilde, fourteen, and Elena, nine, a powerful central presence in La Siesta by virtue of the softly-nuanced white of their summer dresses and their striking red ribbons, he has organized the painting less as a portrait of his treasured children than as a celebration of a moment and a place in their young lives. Absorbed in their own thoughts or nodding off as they pose in the Mediterranean warmth, the girls display complete ease with their role as models and allow the splashing sunlight and their father's famed brushwork to guide the viewer through their familiar garden.
Since the early 1890s, Sorolla had spent part or all of his summers painting on the beaches of Valencia, creating large-scale images of heavily laden fishing boats floundering through the waves or heart-clutching moments of contemporary village life. The lengthy list of medals and purchase awards that Sorolla won at exhibitions and world fairs in Madrid, Paris, Buenos Aires and Chicago is witness to his phenomenal success on a very competitive international stage. But it was probably the grand prix which he received at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 and the six days he spent meeting and being feted by an array of fellow artists that had the greatest impact on Sorolla's subsequent career. From this trip, Sorolla formed friendships with John Singer Sargent and Anders Zorn, with whom he shared a similar stylistic drive; but he also met artists as different as Léon Bonnat, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Claude Monet. From the experience, Sorolla gained a new appreciation of the breadth of the audience he might address and a critical recognition of the complexities of the growing modern movements. Increasingly, he turned his art toward private collectors, with an ever-widening range of subjects and an emphasis on commissioned portraits, all the while maintaining his distinctively personal approach to powerful color and light effects.
We would like to thank Alexandra Murphy for writing this catalogue note.
The first owner of this work was Lavinia Steward, a student of Sorolla who acquired this work directly from the artist. In a letter to her descendants dated October 30, 1961, Francisco Pons-Sorolla, the director of the Museo Sorolla in Madrid, wrote the following about this painting and its place in his grandfather's oeuvre: "La Siesta en el Jardin is unquestionably of great artistic worth and from a very interesting period of the great painter's life."
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