The San Diego Museum of Art presents Sorolla and America from May 31 through August 26, 2014. The Post-Impressionist retrospective of Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida is the first show to explore the artist’s impact in the United States in the early 20th century, and study how his American audience received him. Until the arrival of Pablo Picasso, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida was the most internationally known Spanish artist.
The museum will highlight approximately 150 works including drawings, paintings and oil sketches. It includes several of his most influential paintings and approximately 40 previously unseen works.
Assembled by theme, the retrospective surveys artworks that represent the styles and subjects in which Sorolla was renowned, including beach scenes, landscapes and gardens, portraits, decorative mural studies and historical subject matter.
Joaquín Sorolla’s American story began in 1893 when his painting submission was selected for the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. The 1892 ¡Otra Maragrita¡ (Another Marguerite) is a dark but massive canvas that was awarded the Medal of Honor in the Chicago Exhibition. With the success of the painting, Sorolla’s career “as the world knows may be said to have begun.” His work came as a “revelation to the American public.” He generated such a stir in the America, that even the American painter, John Singer Sargent was envious.
After his sensation in Chicago, Sorolla prevailed at the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition with his painting, Triste Herencia (Sad Inheritance). Then, in 1909, railroad heir, Archer Milton Huntington invited Sorolla to show his work at New York City’s Hispanic Society.
During Sorolla’s five months in America, his exhibition procured a multitude of commissions that included an invitation to White House to paint the official portrait of President William H. Taft.
Early in 1911, he returned to the United States to exhibit new works at the Art Institute of Chicago. Later that year, Huntington commissioned Sorolla to produce a mural series on Spanish life, called Visions of Spain for the Hispanic Society library. Unfortunately, it would come to shadow Sorolla’s other successes and dominated the later years of Sorolla’s life.
Huntington pictured the masterpiece to illustrate Spain’s history, however, Sorolla favored a less definite premise. He chose to adapt Huntington’s vision, and painted a representation of the regions of the Iberian Peninsula, entitled The Provinces of Spain, that portrayed the life and customs in each province.
The painter journeyed with massive canvases to the actual regions. At each site, he painted the models in local costume under the sunlight. Each canvas commemorated the culture and scenery of the particular region, with vistas comprised of locals and laborers. By 1917, work was taking a toll on the painter. Although exhausted by his own admission, he completed the final panel by mid-1919.
Joaquín Sorolla y Batisda had a passion for art at an early age. Sorolla once stated that a painter should observe nature without “parti pris,” and that the artist should not have a preconceived notion of what the painting should look like until it is finished, but to regard the picture that is emerging.
During the artist’s stay in America, though animated, Sorolla would not speak of himself. In a 1909 New York Times interview, the writer commented that Sorolla held a twinkle in his eye, like one that can “see the floodlight,” which comprises the “chief charm of Sorolla’s paintings.”
Sorolla’s work and presence in America were well received. At the end of the New York Times interview, the “courteous” Spanish artist took an “Old World leave” with a bow that just about “passed muster in Castile itself.” Visitors to the San Diego exhibit Sorolla and America will note that the artist’s great impact on America and its audience is just not about the immense size of his canvases, but his perception on life and culture is worthy of applause.
By: Dawn Levesque