Lot 10
  • 10

Joaquín Sorolla

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Camino de la pesca. Valencia (Setting out to Sea. Valencia)
  • signed and dated J. Sorolla B / 1908 lower left
  • oil on canvas
  • 111 by 91cm., 43¾ by 35¾in.


Virginia Badino de Usanna, Buenos Aires (by 1942)
Sala Parés, Barcelona
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1970


Rome, Salone d’Onore, Padiglione della Spagna, Esposizione Internazionale di Belle Arti in Roma, 1911
Buenos Aires, Institución Cultural Española, Sorolla. Su obra en el arte español y sus obras en la Argentina, 1942, illustrated in the catalogue
Barcelona, Sala Parés, Homenaje a Sorolla en el cincuentenario de su muerte, 1973, no. 24 (incorrectly titled Vuelta de la pesca)


Bernardino de Pantorba, Sorolla: Estudio biográfico y crítico, Madrid, 1953, no. 1583, catalogued
Bernardino de Pantorba, La vida y obra de Joaquín Sorolla, Madrid, 1970, p. 189, no. 1583, catalogued


The following condition report has been prepared by Hamish Dewar Ltd., 13 & 14 Mason's Yard, London SW1Y 6BU: UNCONDITIONAL AND WITHOUT PREJUDICE Structural Condition The canvas is unlined and is on a keyed wooden stretcher and is structurally sound and secure. There is some staining on the reverse of the canvas. Paint surface The paint surface has an even varnish layer and inspection under ultra-violet light shows scattered retouchings, some of which appear larger than is really necessary and could therefore be reduced with more minimal inpainting. The most significant of these are: 1) On the right vertical framing edge, where the uppermost retouchings measure approximately 10 and 4 cm in length. 2) Retouchings in the folds of the sail. 3) Retouchings by the left vertical framing edge and a few spots in the sky and water. 4) Retouchings in the darker pigments of the sea just above the lower horizontal framing edge and other small, scattered retouchings. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be good and stable condition and while no further work is required for reasons of conservation the retouchings could be reduced if 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 Malvarrosa beach, Valencia in the late summer of 1908, the present work and Recogiendo la vela, painted the same year (lot 14) describe wonderfully complimentary aspects of the daily lives of the local fishing community. One set on water, the other on shore, in each the fishermen's actions exude a simple majesty.

In the present work two figures sit in the stern of the fishing boat. Shaded by the magnificent sail, they steer the huge wooden form – at once both supremely elegant  and massive in its bulk - with apparent ease out to sea. The sun strikes the canvas of the sail and lights up the wooden deck fore and aft, as the vessel glides through the shallows, the rhythmic undulations of the sea gently slapping  the boat’s wooden keel as it sails forth.

Similarly evocative is the monumental form of the local fisherman bundling up his sail in Recogiendo la vela painted the same year. Having laid out his sail on the beach to dry, the central figure gathers in the thick canvas under the long shadows cast by the late afternoon sun, before stowing it in the adjacent boat, its large heavy curving form evident on the right edge of the composition, with the fisherman’s wife glimpsed standing at its stern.

The central features of both works revolve around a complex matrix of diagonals. In Camino de la pesca the angle of the boat and mast, the jutting boom and the gently filling sail form a dramatic triangle, the boat’s forward movement complemented by the swirling staccato brushstrokes that describe the foreground water. In Recogiendo la vela the long diagonal shadows are cast across the sail, and contrast with the upright form of the fisherman who labours purposefully to gather in the canvas and make good his boat. The striking diagonals in each are anchored by their ‘horizon’ lines – where sea meets sky in Camino de la pesca and where beach meets sea in Recogiendo la vela.

Both paintings develop a theme of fishermen plying their trade that had long fascinated Sorolla. As a boy growing up in Valencia he had always valued the city’s beaches, and as an artist influenced by the call of the Naturalist painters – Jules Bastien-Lepage in particular – to paint what you know best, the Valencian shoreline and the local fishing community was a compelling theme (fig. 1).

First appearing in his work following his return from his studies in Rome, in 1894 his seminal The Return from Fishing was awarded highest honours at the Paris Salon and was acquired by the French State to hang in the Luxembourg Palace (fig. 2). 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. On seeing his sun filled work at the Exposition Universelle in Paris of 1900 Claude Monet hailed Sorolla as the ‘The master of light above all other’. And Sorolla realised the apogee of this genre in 1903 when he completed his monumental canvas Afternoon sun (fig. 3). Similar in size to The Return from Fishing but even more ambitious in intent, José Luis Díez calls it ‘Sorolla’s supreme apotheosis as a painter of scenes of maritime labour’ (quoted in José Luis Díez & Javier Barón, Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923), (exh. cat.), Madrid, 2009, p. 307).

Such accolades brought Sorolla into contact with a number of notable contemporary painters, 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, where 450 works were exhibited to great acclaim. The following year an exhibition of 280 works were shown in Berlin, Dusseldorf and Cologne and in the spring of 1908, just months before he painted the present painting, he showed 280 works at the Grafton Gallery in London. Although his London sales did not match those that he achieved in his ground breaking exhibition in Paris two years earlier, it did introduce him to Archer Huntington, who would become his most important patron, and with whom he laid the plans for the blockbuster exhibition of his work in New York a year later at The Hispanic Society of America.

What changed during the fifteen years that elapsed between his early Paris Salon success and the painting of Camino de la pesca was his interpretation of his Valencian subject matter. In the early 1890s his message was consciously Social Realist, his youthful ambition emphasising the hardship of a fisherman’s life, and his titles embuing his subject matter with a political edge. This was overtly expressed in such large canvases as And They Still Say Fish is Expensive!, a composition that depicts a fisherman receiving medical aid below deck, having suffered a severe accident on board, accompanied by an accusatory title. But as his star rose, he travelled more, and his subject matter grew more diverse, so Sorolla's depictions of fishermen became less loaded with a contemporary message. Instead he aligned Valencia’s fishing traditions with the region’s classical past, ennobling his subject matter in the process. Thus in both the dhow-like profile of the fishing boat in Camino de la pesca and the sculptural form of the figure with sail in Recogiendo la vela it is the expression of timeless age-old traditions that draw upon the area’s antique past that is at the core of both compositions, and give each painting their meaning.

Underlying his appreciation for Valencia was his love of painting, his consummate mastery of painterly technique matched by his passion for his work, especially when by the Mediterranean. In a letter to his wife Clotilde, Sorolla eulogised: ‘Today I have continued [painting], every time I am more enamoured of nature, so much so that between the sea and the splendid sun I think my happiest days are those on the beach.’ Of his compulsion to paint 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 compassion over many years – are clearly evident in the present work: in the bravura brushstrokes, the liquid paint surface and his striking use of colour to evoke a symphony of sunlit sail, aquamarine water and blue sky anchored by the rugged form of the wooden fishing vessel heading out to sea.