Lot 11
  • 11

Joaquín Sorolla

700,000 - 1,000,000 GBP
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  • Greek Girls on the Shore
  • signed and dated J Sorolla / 1895 lower right
  • oil on canvas
  • 188.5 by 175.5cm., 74¼ by 69in.


Ulpiano González de Olañeta y González Ocampo, Marquis of Valdeterrazo (1847-1928; commissioned from the artist for 2000 pesetas as a decorative panel for his Madrid residence at 67 Calle Hortaleza)
Duquesa viuda de Montpensier y Marquesa de Valdeterrazo, Madrid; thence by descent 
Acquired by the present owners in 1985


Valencia, Museo de Bellas Artes, Sorolla en las colecciones valencianas, 1997, no. 75


Bernardino de Pantorba, La Vida y La Obra de Joaquín Sorolla, Madrid, 1970, p. 178, no. 1301, catalogued (as Mujeres griegas (panel decorativo))
Joaquín Sorolla, exh. cat., Madrid, 2009, p. 122, described; p. 141, catalogued


The canvas is original and has been securely re-stretched on a keyed wooden stretcher. Part of the original composition is visible on the right turnover edges. Two patches are visible on the reverse in the centre (one circa 10 by 6cm and one circa 5 by 6cm). There are two indents at the edge of the canvas in the lower left and upper right corner respectively; however, these are not too visible as mostly covered by the frame. An old vertical repair (patched on the reverse) is visible in the sea in the centre of the composition upon close inspection. Ultra-violet light reveals some minor retouching in the aforementioned repair but no other notable signs of restoration. This work is in very good overall condition and ready to hang. Presented in a silver-coloured frame. Colours are somewhat less saturated in reality than in the catalogue illustration.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Painted for the Marquis of Valdeterrazo in 1895, the year of Sorolla’s triumph in Paris and Madrid, the present work epitomises the large-scale, neoclassical murals which Sorolla was commissioned to paint in the earlier part of his career. Catering to the contemporary vogue for neo-hellenism, Sorolla presents a lush Mediterranean coastal setting – not unlike his native Valencia – in springtime. Replete with oleanders, almond blossom and other flora, Sorolla depicts two maidens in elegantly flowing white drapery, backlit by the sun.  Sorolla’s talent for capturing the human form on a large scale in such murals ultimately led to the commission in 1911 of the Vision of Spain cycle, the artist’s masterpiece, held in the Hispanic Society, New York. 

While the girls’ dress and poses call to mind classical sculpture, and the distant figure may have been partially inspired by the Diana of Gabii in the Louvre, which the artist had probably seen when visiting Paris in 1895, Sorolla does not appear to have imitated a specific classical prototype for the figures. The composition instead recalls Neoclassical painters of the previous generation to Sorolla, notably Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Frederick Lord Leighton (fig. 1). Sorolla greatly admired Alma-Tadema in particular, whose work he would have seen at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, and the two artists subsequently struck up a warm friendship. For the present work Sorolla may have been inspired by Alma-Tadema’s Spring painted the previous year (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles), transposing the floriferous theme to the Spanish coast. 

Sharing these artists’ elegant vision of the classical world, Greek Girls reveals a marked progression from one of Sorolla’s earlier classical wall panels, The Nereids of 1886 (Malacañang Presidential Palace Collection, Manila (Philippines), 170 by 330cm). More in line with the present composition, Sorolla chose an elegant classical mode for another mural commission at this time, painted for the Chilean landowner Rafael Errázuriz. Completed in 1896, the group of four works (of which two are now lost) depict viticultural scenes. Notwithstanding the figures’ classical clothing, the process of harvesting and pressing the wine depicted would have remained remarkably unchanged from the classical to contemporary worlds (fig. 2). 

First nourished by his studies in Rome in 1885, Sorolla’s classical aesthetic remained implicit in his work throughout his career.  In his later compositions painted directly on Valencia beach, Sorolla alluded to Valencia’s and the Mediterranean’s classical past in the nude perfection of his sitters. The allusions were not lost on the critic Juan Ramón Jiménez, who in 1904 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.' 

In different forms, the flowing white drapery of the figures in the present work find their equivalent in other major works Sorolla painted at the time, notably Sewing the Sail of 1896 (Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Ca' Pesaro, Venice) and The Mother of 1895 (Museo Sorolla, Madrid). Almost abstracted, the latter becomes a symphony in white, broken only by the bond between Sorolla’s wife and new daughter Elena.

The present work was painted in a year that marked a turning point in Sorolla’s career. In 1895 Sorolla sent his monumental masterpiece The Return from Fishing  to the Paris Salon, where it received the highest honours possible for a painter from abroad, and was purchased by the French state for the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris (the work now hangs in the Musée d’Orsay). In the Exposición General de Bellas Artes de Madrid the same year, the work And They Still Say Fish is Expensive! won Sorolla a first-class medal, and was acquired by the Museo de Arte Moderno.  Sorolla was the first to acknowledge the critical importance of his work of the mid-1890s in establishing his future success. In a letter of 1913 to Rodolfo Gil he wrote: ‘How long did it take me to form my style? Twenty years! … Until my painting in the Luxembourg [Return from Fishing], I was not fully aware of the ideal I was pursuing. It was a laborious process, but a methodical and rational one; gradually the hesitations were ironed out, but not all of a sudden…’ (quoted by Carmen Gracia ‘Sorollism: A Unique Adventure’ in The Painter Joaquín Sorolla, exh. cat., IBM Gallery of Science & Art, New York, and travelling, 1989, p. 38).   

The present commission was clearly a success, as Valdeterrazo went on to commission another canvas from Sorolla five years later. The latter work was to depict a group of figures in a garden in eighteenth-century attire. Titled La Gallinita ciega or Blindman’s Buff, the work differs in style and execution, and reveals the influence of José Jiménez Aranda. The two works remained together until 1985, the latter canvas now hanging in the Museo de Bellas Artes, Valencia.