signed and dated J Sorolla y Bastida 1904 lower right
Calixto Rodríguez (1905)
María Lorente de Rodríguez (widow of the above)
Jose María Lorente Sorolla
Purchased from the above by the present owner in 1969
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Exposition Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, 1906
Mexico, Mexico City, Exposición Española de Arte e Industrias Decorativas, 1910
Madrid, Galería Theo, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, 1968, no. 5
Madrid, Banco de Bilbao, Adelantados de la Modernidad, 1979 no. 8
Lièges, Salle Saint-Georges, Musée d'Art Moderne, Sorolla-Solana. Europalia 85 - Espagne, 1985, no. 10, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Bernardino Pantorba, La Vida y la obra de Joaquín Sorolla, Madrid, 1970, p. 187, catalogued; p. 56, no. 1540, illustrated
Blanca Pons-Sorolla, Joaquín Sorolla, Vida y Obra, Madrid, 2001, p. 222, mentioned; p. 221, no. 113, illustrated in colour
Blanca Pons-Sorolla, Joaquín Sorolla, London, 2005, p. 146, mentioned; no. 61, illustrated in colour
Painted in 1904 on Valencia's Cabañal beach, El Pescador celebrates with characteristic panache and consummate elegance the two principal themes that define Sorolla's oeuvre between the mid-1890s and 1910: work, as characterised by the daily rituals of the Valencian fishing community; and play, as evinced by children playing innocently in the sea.
The composition is dominated by the striking three-quarter length profile of a boy carrying a basket of fish as he walks purposefully along the Valencian shore. His vertical stance is contrasted by the whites of the breaking waves behind him that run horizontally across the composition. In the distance a group of younger children cavort in the water. Suffusing the whole composition is the hot Valencian sun which glints on the boy's skin, reflects off the scales of the fish in the basket, dances off the foam of the waves and illuminates the children in the water.
But it is not just the Mediterranean light that unites the two distinct parts of the painting. The slight backward turn of the fisher boy's head, and his wistful gaze also draw foreground and background together. His glance intimates the future of the children gambolling in the water: that in a few years time one or more of them may well be tasked - like him - with the responsibility of bringing in the catch. Sorolla's celebration of the precious gift of youth and his contemplation of the passing of time in the present work was a subject that was especially important to him. At the time of painting El Pescador his own children were already fourteen, twelve and nine; his middle child Joaquín was approximately the same age as the fisher boy. What did the future hold for his offspring, for his wife Clotilde and indeed himself?
Thus far Sorolla's international reputation had been formed largely through his depiction of the Valencian fishing community. This had been triggered by his success at the Paris Salon of 1894 when La vuelta de la pesca (Bringing Home the Catch) (fig. 1) had been awarded a medal and acquired by the French State to hang in the Luxembourg Palace. Over the next ten years Sorolla recorded with increasing verve and realism the local fishermens' working lives, be they striving against the elements to land their haul, mending their nets on the beach or relaxing on board their boats. Sorolla realised the apogee of this genre in 1903 when he completed the large scale canvas Sol de la tarde (Afternoon Sun) (fig. 2). Similar in size to La Vuelta de la pesca but even more ambitious in intent, José Luis Diez calls it 'Sorolla's supreme apotheosis as a painter of scenes of maritime labour' (quoted in Joaquín Sorolla, exh. cat. Madrid 2009, p. 307).
If Sol de la tarde was the culmination of one genre, however, his work from the summer of 1904 announced Sorolla's new direction, his empathy with the local fishing community transformed into a wider artistic vision. At a domestic level this was a consequence of both achieving financial success as a painter, and his inclination to draw inspiration for his work from his young family whom he watched blossom and flourish by his side. At the end of the year Sorolla was to move with his wife and children to a new and significantly improved house and studio in Calle Miguel Angel 9 in Madrid, and over that summer he embarked on an especially vigorous painting campaign that delighted in the depiction of children. Sorolla paid specific tribute to his offspring in the group portrait Mi hijos (My Children). But typically he incorporated them in a more generalised way into his iconic beach scenes. Just as in the present work the fisherboy can be read as an oblique allusion to his son, in Verano (Summer) (fig. 3) it is clear from the preparatory sketches that the leading girl running on the beach is a portrait of his youngest daughter Elena.
But beyond his interest in his wife and children, it was his aspiration for Valencia and the whole of Spain that fuelled Sorolla's drive to paint. In nurturing these larger hopes he was pragmatic. Writing later in the decade from America he noted: 'We have the modern Spain now, with its roads and wireless telegraph... Spain having lost her colonies must develop her own great resources and compete in the markets of the world' (quoted in Carmen Gracia in The Painter Joaquín Sorolla, exh. cat., London 1988, p. 43). For its part Sorolla hoped that Valencia would stimulate and direct the renaissance of the whole of Spain. 'One of my most cherished hopes,' he declared, '...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.' (Gracia, 1988, p. 44)
To articulate his vision in paint Sorolla drew on both Valencia's ancient past, and his own experience as an art student in Rome surrounded by the Antique. Since the 1890s critics had not infrequently associated Sorolla's work with the Classical World. Writing on Sorolla's work in the year that El pescador was painted, Juan Ramón Jiménez noted that Sorolla: '...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 Mediterranean 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, 1988, p. 89).
The gamin good looks and sculptured torso of the fisherboy in El pescador clearly conform to the Ideal that Sorolla strived for, embodying the grand vision Sorolla had for his country.
Fig. 1, Joaquín Sorolla, Vuelta de la pesca (Return from Fishing), 1894, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fig. 2, Joaquín Sorolla, Sol de la tarde (Afternoon Sun), 1903, Hispanic Society of America, New York
Fig. 3, Joaquín Sorolla, Verano (Summer), 1904, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana
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