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Sorolla records the children's innocent activity with extraordinary painterly fluency. He defines their energy bursts with short staccato brush strokes, capturing their activities with a masterful economy of means. To define the sea longer and broader strokes of paint criss-cross the picture surface. Painting under the full force of the Mediterranean sun, Sorolla evokes the glare of the light in the water that glistens on the children's bodies, the brilliance of their reflections, and the distinctive action of the foreground boy. In the background the full sails of the fishing boat suggest the force of the wind, a reality that is also evident in the occasional particles of sand that became mixed with the paint and which still adhere to the picture surface. As well as using the light to optimum effect in his work, it was the spontaneity that Sorolla evoked in his compositions, that appealed so strongly to the public imagination.
Sorolla's exhibitions in France, Germany and England gave his work extraordinary exposure across Europe, but it was his meeting with the American millionaire Archer M. Huntington in London that proved to be his most influential contact: Huntington invited Sorolla to stage the inaugural exhibition of his newly constructed Hispanic Society of America in New York at the beginning of the following year. Buoyed up by this invitation Sorolla embarked on his summer painting campaign at Valencia with renewed vigour. The resultant series of works, of which Children in the Sea, Valencia Beach is a prime example, show Sorolla working at the height of his powers, wielding his brush with supreme confidence and completing some of his most successful compositions of figures on the beach. The present work was one of some 350 pictures that Sorolla exhibited in New York from 4 February – 8 March 1909. The response to the exhibition was overwhelming. During one month it attracted nearly 170,000 visitors, 20,000 copies of the exhibition catalogue were sold, and on the last day alone nearly 30,000 descended on the Hispanic Society to catch the show before it closed. Sales for Sorolla topped 150 works (including the present painting), and on the strength of the exhibition Sorolla received a series of prestigious portrait commissions.
Writing to his mother Huntington described the success of the exhibition in the following terms: 'Everywhere the air was full of the miracle. People quoted figures of attendance. There was eternal talk of 'sunlight'. Nothing like it had ever happened in New York. Ohs and Ahs stained the floors. Automobiles blocked the streets. Orders for portraits poured in. Photographs were sold in unheard of numbers. And through it all the little creator sat surprised, overwhelmed yet simple and without vanity, while I translated to him the rising tide of press enthusiasm. And Clotilde his small Valencian wife, with the pained drawn face of those who dwell with the great, folded her hands meekly and drank of the tide of glory tremulously, nervously smiling, bewildered and happy, as more than a hundred people crowded into the small building to pay tribute to her husband. And then it was all over; the doors were closed and the packing began, for the pictures must soon start upon their pilgrimages to other galleries.' (quoted in Blanca Pons Sorolla, Joaquín Sorolla, London, 2004, p. 204).
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