His Painting Palette Was the Size of a Piano Top

10 Oct 2011

Under the Awning by Joaquin Sorolla, oil painting, 1910.
Under the Awning by Joaquin Sorolla, oil painting, 1910.

"There is nothing truer than truth. All the mistakes committed by great artists are due to their having separated themselves from truth, believing that their imagination is stronger...There is nothing stronger than nature. With nature in front of us we can do everything well." - Joaquin Sorolla

Upon the opening of the 1906 Paris exhibition of Sorolla's work, Camille Mauclair wrote, "Artists of France, I beg you to visit this exhibition, where you will learn all the lessons of plein air, line, color, impasto, and originality."

Last month, John received the catalog, The Painter: Joaquin Sorolla by Edmund Peel as a birthday present. It is from the 1989 exhibition of Sorolla's work and it has left us both, once again, in awe of the talent, energy, and mastery of this great artist. John was fortunate enough to see the exhibition when it was in New York at the IBM Gallery, and to see in person the large canvases, many painted entirely outdoors—it changed his vision of what painting could be, forever.

It is refreshing again to see Sorolla's bold use of vibrant color. Although he began with earth colors and a darker "Old Masters" palette in his portrait paintings, it seems to have been the pull to paint his subjects outdoors, in sunlight, that transformed his palette to the brighter, more vibrant colors for which he became known.

Sewing the Sail by Joaquin Sorolla, oil painting, 1896.
Sewing the Sail by Joaquin Sorolla, oil painting, 1896.

A major influence on the young Sorolla was the painter Jules Bastien-LePage, who championed the rural life of France in his pictures. Sorolla, likewise, loved to paint the working people of Spain, especially the fishermen. He loved to paint white fabrics in the intense Spanish sun. White sails, white dresses, white beaches were all painted lovingly and exuberantly, and he made brilliant use of cool violets and blues to set off the shadows, all painted with decisive, calligraphic strokes. His masterwork, Sewing the Sail is a prime example of this.

He was also remarkable for his prodigious and ambitious workload. He exhorted his students to produce not one study for a studio work but ten! He had no qualms about working life-size outdoors, where he rigged up great swaths of fabric on frames to shade his work and provide the right lighting for his models. When one model would tire, he had a replacement step in so that the work could continue. Historians record that Sorolla worked 6 to 9 hours a day and kept a covered bed in his studio in order to sleep close to his work and be able to begin painting quickly without disturbing the rest of the household.

My Wife and Daughters in the Garden by Joaquin Sorolla, oil painting, 1910. Valencian Fisherwomen by Joaquin Sorolla, oil painting, 1915.
My Wife and Daughters in the Garden by Joaquin Sorolla,
oil painting, 1910.
Valencian Fisherwomen
by Joaquin Sorolla, oil painting, 1915.
It is said that in the studio he sometimes used a palette the size of a grand piano lid and brushes three feet long to allow him to stand back from his large paintings. He would paint with quick, decisive short strokes until the finish, when he would secretly knit the loose assemblage of colorful strokes into a masterwork with a careful application of middle-greys, that he said, "are worth lots of money."                           

If you ever get the opportunity to see this master's work first-hand, we heartily recommend it. It may provide a lifetime of inspiration.

Join us on The Artist's Road for more inspiring in-depth articles.

--Ann & John


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Comments

Susan Roux wrote
on 16 Nov 2011 6:36 AM

Interesting post filled with beautiful paintings that I have difficulty pulling my eyes from. To see these in real life would be amazing.

Emaa wrote
on 31 Dec 2013 8:00 AM

Beautiful paintings I would love to see them in person.