In a room full of artists the name of Sorolla came into the conversation. The place brightened up and a knowing “yes” was passed around.
You might say Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923) is an artist’s artist. A Spaniard of Valencia, he switched in mid-career from sentimental scenes of religion and despair to a bright and optimistic manner — a bit Velasquez, a bit Sargent. Children and girls wet from the Spanish beaches, brave and dashing boys and men in the magic hour. Fast and fresh in his strokes (he painted 500, often large, paintings in one three year period) his canvasses are filled with light, reflected light, luminous shadow, local color. Further, there’s a kind of happenstance, compositional relaxation, and an unfinished and unresolved look about the work. He called his style “natural painting.”
Sorolla is seldom mentioned in the art books. In his time he sold out shows in Madrid, Paris and New York — In the Hispanic Society show in 1909 there were 160,000 visitors in one month. “We must have Sorolla,” said my friend and fellow artist Joe Blodgett, “He’s the competition.”
In the studios of our minds our masters become our rivals. Those who are our betters are the ones we set to defeat. Aiming low eases the game, but greater things happen when we are shooting toward our stars.
In our strange business there’s often little personal contact or slogging through wet bunkers to beat a foe. For us it’s a quiet and solitary campaign that starts in museums, galleries, books, on the internet, in front of nature herself, and in the daring reaches of our hearts.
PS “Nothing is stronger than nature. With nature in front of us we can do everything well.” (Joaquin Sorolla)
Esoterica: There’s a spectacularly exuberant multi-panel mural called “Visions of Spain” in the Museum of the Hispanic Society in New York. Commissioned by Archer Milton Huntington in 1912, it was Sorolla’s last burst of creative energy.
An illustrated article on Sorolla by Peter Saint-Andre is https://stpeter.im/writings/essays/sorolla.html
The following are selected recent correspondence. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.
Fortune of pictures
by Betsy Kuhn, Albuquerque, NM, USA
Speaking of our masters, last week I bought a coffee table book of Kandinsky’s works. It was practically a giveaway and when I got home and began to look, I felt like I broke the bank with this fortune of pictures. His early work and his process into abstraction amazes me. I can’t quite imagine him as competition, but I wish rather to sit at his feet for a lifetime. I do know I learn the most when I surround myself with my chosen superiors. To launch myself fully into my own process still eludes me. Maybe not, who else’s process could this be? Only mine, but something longs to break through that is unknown to me.
by Jeanette A Scotti
“In addition to his work as a painter of scenes of ordinary people at work and at play, Sorolla was much in demand as a portraitist. In this regard he was influenced by John Singer Sargent, whose “excellent naturalism” Sorolla much admired.” (Peter Saint-André)
I would be surprised if Sorolla thought of ‘defeating’ Sargent.
by Jane Capillaro, Taconic CT, USA
I paint while I ride in the Navy Van, which is our amphibious unit, with Eon A.C. a canoe on top. In this blue van, which I painted with an ocean scene and palindromes, we have traveled across and around North America many times. I don’t drive, I am the cook in our expeditions, but I do a lot of sketching and watercolors of road scenes. I have a kit under my seat. At home on Twin Lakes I like to paint in the canoe.
From the heart
by oliver, Texas, USA
I think it starts in the heart and mind. Then builds toward museums — maybe. The heart and mind inflame the artist, intellectual, gallery director, curator and lay person alike. We all compete for all the world’s attention, the more attractive the space and the individual the more the competition. I just hope the competition makes us better.
by Georg Heinrich, Berlin
My star is myself. I don’t pay any attention to any other artists. I live in a private world with very few books or other people’s paintings. I am quite original — so much so that others copy me and some even make a living copying me. I do not pay any attention to the fashions, I don’t even care which ones sell and which do not. As long as I have a cash flow I can keep doing what I’m doing. The only reason I subscribe to your letter is to know that there are others doing this too. If you were to put in illustrations of yours or other people’s work, or to start telling me how to paint, you can be assured I would unsubscribe.
Sensuous and stimulating
by Luba Hansen
My favorite star is Egon Schiele. Because I love to draw — his style and line fascinates me. It was his work that made it possible for me to get love and loving back into my art. I find his work incredibly sensuous and stimulating. He made me brave. Particularly I love both his female and male nudes.
by Lin Souliere
What a wonderful treat to go to the Sorolla website and read about the artist and see his works. I had not heard of him and felt inspired by his use of light, something which is the main subject of my painting. It was a link to the world of an artist’s mind and feelings that I often crave in the solitary search for my own path. I am currently struggling to know what it is I am trying to achieve with my art, feeling smothered by outside comments and, although I realize well intended, suggestions. Some days what I need is to be lost in a sea of work that is new and inspiring, nothing familiar at all. The words and images about Sorolla achieved that for me this morning, and I am grateful.
by Lesley Humphrey
A family of enormous wealth commissioned me for 5 paintings of their children. They were young, squirmy boys and so photography was a must. Four were done to satisfaction with little trouble, but the last…. AAAGGGHHH! First of all, the mother didn’t like a single photograph/sketch that I had taken of this 8 year old boy, and instead presented me with a lovely likeness of him, in black and white, and back-lit, making him look angelic. In reality, he was an uncooperative, face-pulling brat (who insisted that the helicopter take him to summer camp… he couldn’t stand the bus for four hours. I’ve since found out that he got dunked in the river the first day and learned to do his own laundry… poor baby.)
In short, I succumbed to the 6-home-syndrome, and let them dictate the process for this boy. I struggled with the black and white, struggled with the “angelism”, struggled with not letting my pain ooze all over the canvas. After much chagrin, finally the painting was delivered and satisfactory all except for the eyes! His eyes were deep blue, yet the mother liked the “ice-blue” of them when he is in full sun in the Mediterranean! “But he is back-lit!” I responded. The personal assistant asked me to just give the kid ice-blue eyes, and I complied. Yes, I sold-out my art in this painting. The mother just loves the painting now, which I refused to sign since it looks like the child has flashlights behind each eye. Maybe it’s because it gives him the demonic glare that makes her feel more at home?
This painting took me 5 weeks. I paint from life at least once a week and have an entire (and far superior) portrait/figure done in 3-4 hours. The moral of the story is… it’s not worth the money.
I’m afraid to write for fear of what you might do with my letter. Is it dangerous? (L.T.S.)
(RG note) Readers of these clickbacks tell us that they appreciate writers who give a different point of view, or add to what was said in the letter. We practically always edit the letters for clarity and brevity. Candid, real life experiences such as “Portrait problems,” above, are useful and generally kept as close as possible to the originator’s hand. Where writers are saying about the same thing we take the first or the best. It is appreciated when writers include approximately where they live—readers like to put a geographical location to a name. At the same time it seems some writers appreciate anonymity and this will continue to be respected. “Not for publication” requests are honored. We do not include email addresses along with your name in order to guard against spamming. Your address will never be sold. It is, of course, possible to go to engines such as Google and put in a name and it will practically always lead to a connection.
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