Lot 221
  • 221

Joaquín Sorolla

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 GBP
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  • Niños en la playa, Valencia (Children on the beach, Valencia)
  • signed J Sorolla B lower left; signed and inscribed En el baño. Valencia / J. Sorolla on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 70 by 100cm., 27½ by 39½in.


Justo Bou (acquired from the artist in 1919)
María Bauzá (widow of Ramón Rodríguez), acquired from the above
Linares Gallery, Madrid
Francisco Pons-Sorolla y Arnau (acquired from the above in 1957); thence by descent to the present owners


Bordeaux, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, La Découverte de la lumière des primitifs aux impressionistes, 1959, no. 225
Madrid, Casón del Buen Retiro, Joaquín Sorolla. Primer centenario de su nacimiento (1863-1963), 1963, no. 119, illustrated in the catalogue
Valencia, Ayuntamiento de Valencia, Centenario de Sorolla, 1963, no. 29, illustrated in the catalogue
Valencia, IVAM Centre Julio González; New York, IBM Gallery; St Louis, Art Museum; San Diego, Museum of Art: Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, 1989-90, no. 64, illustrated in the catalogue
Madrid, Fundación MAPFRE, Entre dos siglos. España 1900, 2009, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue and on the cover
Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage, El Modernismo: De Sorolla à Picasso, 1880-1918, 2011, no. 88, illustrated in the catalogue


Bernardino de Pantorba, Sorolla: Estudio biográfico y crítico, Madrid, 1963, n.p., illustrated
Bernardino de Pantorba, La vida y obra de Joaquín Sorolla, Madrid, 1970, p. 157, no. 1786, catalogued; pl. XIV, illustrated
Edmund Peel, The Painter Joaquín Sorolla, London, 1989, p. 183, no. 64, illustrated; p. 236, catalogued & illustrated; p. 8, fig. 3, a photograph of Sorolla painting the present work
Blanca Pons-Sorolla, Joaquín Sorolla. Vida y obra, Madrid, 2001, p. 460, no. 274, illustrated; p. 737, no. 274, catalogued; p. 461, a photograph of Sorolla painting the present work
Blanca Pons-Sorolla, Joaquín Sorolla, London, 2005, p. 283, no. 154, illustrated
Sorolla y la otra imagen, (exh. cat.), Valencia, Museo de Bellas Artes. Centro del Carmen & Madrid, Museo Sorolla, 2006-07, p. 196, illustrated with a photograph of Sorolla painting the present work
Joaquín Sorolla, 1863-1923, (exh. cat.), Madrid, Museo del Prado, 2009, p. 78, fig. 45, illustrated
Blanca Pons-Sorolla, Sorolla: The Masterworks, New York, 2012, p. 173, no. 90, illustrated; p. 157, cited; p. 155, a photograph of Sorolla painting the present work


The following condition report has been prepared by Hamish Dewar Ltd., of 13 & 14 Mason's Yard, London SW1Y 6BU: UNCONDITIONAL AND WITHOUT PREJUDICE Structural condition The canvas is unlined and is securely attached to what certainly appears to be the original keyed wooden stretcher. This is providing an even and stable structural support. The canvas is inscribed in the upper right quadrant as viewed from the reverse. Paint surface The painting has an even varnish layer. There are some fine lines of craquelure most notably in the upper right and lower left corners of the composition. These are entirely stable and are not visually distracting. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows just one very small retouching on the lower part of the left hand framing edge. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in excellent and stable condition and no work is required.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Painted on Valencia’s El Cabañal beach in 1916, the warmth of the Mediterranean sun and snap-shot-like moment of the children playing by the seashore in the present work marks the high point of Sorolla’s talents as a painter. Simultaneously drawing on the region’s classical past, and his own modern-day interest in capturing the moment, the work expresses Sorolla’s consummate ability to evoke the timeless innocence of childhood.

The composition reprises a subject that Sorolla had painted in 1903, Niños a la orilla del mar (Children on the seashore), which was shown to great acclaim at the 1904 Paris Salon (fig. 1). But a comparison of the 1903 canvas to the present work reveals how Sorolla’s style had evolved in the intervening years. More narrative in conception and less dramatic in composition, the 1903 painting is rooted in a moment carefully observed. The young girl wears a straw hat of the period with a red ribbon in her hair, and is depicted virtually full-length as Sorolla observes her watching the two boys playing in the sand before her. 

The present work, by comparison, is altogether more timeless and abstract. Sorolla’s depiction of the young girl seen from behind, cropped at the waist and bursting into the picture plane fizzes with energy, and borders on the cinematic: a moment stilled, like a frame from a film.

The girl's dynamic entrance is off-set by the languid forms of the boys to her left and right who are blithely unaware of her presence. They idle their time away by the water’s edge, or play in the breakers beyond, indolent foils to the girl's pent up energy. But like the girl, Sorolla has finessed the boys' essential poses from earlier compositions (fig. 2).

The oil is one of a handful of especially significant canvases that Sorolla painted that same summer of intimate scenes of women, and children relaxing on the beach. Their execution followed his heart-felt return to Valencia at the beginning of the year to work on the monumental panel devoted to his native Valencia as part of his Vision of Spain. The project had been commissioned by Archer M. Huntington, to celebrate the country’s different regions. Destined for the Hispanic Society of America, New York, this ambitious scheme had been consuming much of Sorolla’s time and energy for the past five years. 

In Valencia he felt at home. It was where he had been orphaned as a child, and where he had grown up as a boy. In letters to Huntington, he wrote of how moved he was to return to the area. And drawn back to his roots, he determined to return there for the summer months with his family. Renting a house on El Cabañal beach, in the familiar surroundings of his youth, ensconced with his family and succoured by the rays of the Mediterranean sun, Sorolla rekindled in his work a timeless purity.  

What distinguishes the vibrant canvases that he produced that summer is the controlled passion that they exhibit. As a photograph taken of Sorolla painting the present work reveals, he painted direct onto the canvas (fig. 3). Describing his approach, Blanca Pons Sorolla comments: 'Sorolla saw, understood and painted Niños en la playa as a whole; He did no preliminary sketches. The colour, the light, the proportion of the figures, the depth and the breeze of the wind affected in equal measure the entire work. It is extraordinary that Sorolla could capture on canvas something as difficult as the spontaneity of the moment which unfolded before him and imbue it with the emotional charge he felt at the time.’ (unpublished notes from Blanca Pons-Sorolla, 2013). Other key works painted during the same few months, include Después del baño. La bata rosa (The Pink Robe, After the Bath), and La niña curiosa (The Curious Child) (fig. 4).

A common thread running through these works is their expression of the immutable truths that formed the bedrock of Sorolla’s aesthetic throughout his life: his implicit faith in the human condition, the constant source of hope and inspiration that he derived from his family, and the overriding importance to him of Spain, and the region of Valencia in particular.

Children had first started to populate Sorolla's work in the late 1890s. Their appearance was inspired in part by his nascent family: his daughters María and Elena were born in 1890 and 1895, his son Joaquín was born in 1892. But the increasing frequency with which they began to appear in his work also paralleled his own professional and material success. For just as formal recognition for his talents across Europe, in particular at the Paris Salon of 1895 and the Exposition Universelle of 1900, was followed by financial success in the series of major exhibitions in France, Germany, England and the USA during the subsequent decade, so the gritty Social Realist themes of his earlier years made way in his oils for images of people at leisure and children at play.  

As well as connected to the trajectory of his career, however, the ascendancy of children as a motif in his canvases also chimed both with his own hopes and aspirations for the future of Spain, and a wider national call for renewal and re-birth. In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, and the consequent national soul searching, the sun drenched images of childhood innocence that he evoked in his canvases became welcome antidotes, metaphors of hope not just for the future of Spanish painting, but for the regeneration of the country as a whole.  

As evident in the present work, Sorolla’s compositions express a feeling of contemporaneity that fitted perfectly with such intentions. The close cropped edges of the canvas and the spontaneity of the moment recorded, clearly reflects Sorolla’s on-going interest in photography, a medium that was of seminal importance for the time. Sorolla had mastered  the art at a young age as a teenage apprentice in the photography studio of Antonio García in Valencia, and remained closely informed on the subject thereafter, not least as a result of his marriage to García’s daughter, Clotilde. Added to this, however, is the economy of means by which he records the subject, a technical facility that he had finely tuned in recent years while working on the Huntington project. To complete this formidable challenge he had travelled the length and breadth of Spain recording in oil sketches different Spanish types. Obliged to paint straight onto the canvas at considerable speed, he had developed an acute fluidity of style and spontaneity of technique that not only served a practical necessity, but was in the process emphatically modern.

Notwithstanding this, however, the pictorial language that Sorolla drew upon is also unequivocally timeless. Pantheistic in mood, it reflects Sorolla’s innate interest in Classicism, a feature that permeates his Mediterranean landscapes. It was an interest that originated both from his student days in Rome as well as his implicit association of Valencia with its antique past. And as his style matured he expressed the Attic spirit in his work by adopting certain classicising codes. In the present work, for example, as with paintings from the Antique, the boys are naked, whilst the young girl wears a loosely fitting, rather generalized shift.

It proved to be an iconography that, following the traumatic loss of Cuba, the last of the Spanish colonies in 1898, became ever more compelling, to the extent that in the words of many commentators of the day his paintings exhibited increasingly mythic qualities. Describing his work in epic terms, Juan Ramón Jiménez wrote of the painter in 1904: ‘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 Mediterranean coast and the thundering of its blue sea, the Florentine grace of Valencia...’ (quoted by Carmen Gracia, in The Painter Joaquín Sorolla, exh. cat., London, 1989, p, 44). Such grandiloquent analogies were even more prescient at the time the present oil was painted, with continental Europe gripped by the horror of the First World War.

But it was Sorolla’s affiliation first and foremost to his native Valencia that became increasingly important to him. He had strong aspirations to make the region a cradle of art and industry. He declared in an interview in 1914 with Martín Caballero: ‘One of my most 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 inborn artistic temperament.’ (quoted by Carmen Gracia, in The Painter Joaquín Sorolla, exh. cat., London, 1989, p. 44). Sorolla followed up his words with actions, strongly supporting the establishment of a Palace of Valencian Arts and Industries. To this end he enlisted practically all Valencian artists in an Association of Artistic Valencian Youth. Indeed the inaugural exhibition of the Association of Artistic Valencian Youth was held the summer that the present work was painted, and featured the work of his son-in-law and daughters Elena and María.

In recognition of the universal themes that the present work expresses, the painting was reproduced as a stamp in 1963 to commemorate the centenary of Sorolla’s birth. (fig. 5)