Conde de Heeren, Paris (purchased at Galerie Georges Petit in 1906). Born in Hamburg, Conde Christian Arturo Juan Antonio de Heeren (1844-1920) married Virginia González de Candamo e Iriarte (1849-1929). Together they assembled a remarkable art collection which featured a number of outstanding Spanish paintings, including excellent examples by Mariano Fortuny and Raimundo de Madrazo (see lot. 95). Especially attracted to the work of Sorolla, at the same time as they acquired the present painting at Galerie Georges Petit in 1906, they also purchased El bote blanco (The White Boat), fig. 2).
Thence by descent to the present owners
Painted on Cabañal beach, Valencia in the summer of 1904, in Niños en la playa Sorolla evokes the innocence of childhood in his deftly observed and brilliantly executed depiction of two boys playing with a toy sailing boat by the edge of the sea. Omitting the horizon, and with only the glimpse of the head and shoulders of a single bather in the background the composition focuses firmly on the pleasure of leisure, the boys' carefree existence and the privilege of being able to wile away time by the sea. The identity of the two boys is not known, but the presence of the toy yacht in the composition suggests that they were not from the local community. Very likely they were spending time in Valencia as tourists, visiting with their families, the boat suggesting their more elevated status, a signpost pointing towards a privileged future. Such symbolism was surely not lost on the painting's first owner – the Conde de Heeren, who acquired the painting at Sorolla's exhibition of his work at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris in 1906 (fig. 1).
One of a series of increasingly spontaneous and ever more luminous scenes of children on the beach at Valencia, the freedom of execution and liveliness of spirit that the work exhibits are qualities that go to the heart of Sorolla's aesthetic and account for the artist's enduring popularity. Sorolla's inclusion of children into his compositions in the early 1900s tended to make their presence subservient to the main social realist message. As the decade wore on, however, children came to play an ever-more central role, as Sorolla reduced or excluded other elements, in particular the fishermen and oxen that had been the dominant feature of his work during the 1890s.
Sorolla's use of children as subject matter was inspired by his growing family and the importance that he attached to domestic life, not least as a response to his own upbringing: he had been orphaned as a child and raised by relatives. His children María, Joaquín and Elena were born in 1890, 1892 and 1895 respectively, and although other than in family portraits they did not necessarily model for him for specific canvases, nonetheless his offspring were a repeated source of inspiration for a great number of his compositions.
Fig. 1. Photograph of the interior of Galerie Georges Petit at the time of Sorolla's exhibition there in 1906 showing the present work hanging on the lower row second from the left.
Fig. 2. Joaquín Sorolla, El bote blanco, (The White Boat), Jávea, 1905, Private Collection
Fig. 3. Photograph of Joaquín Sorolla in his studio showing the present work published in La Ilustración Artistica in 1906
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