Although Sorolla is by far the most famous of the ‘Spanish Impressionists’, he was not the only one. Most of the others seem to have faded into the mists of time, but I first briefly cover one of Sorolla’s teachers, Pinazo, for whom there are limited resources available.
Ignacio Pinazo Camarlench (1849-1916)
He was born in Valencia in 1849, and worked in a variety of trades before enrolling in the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts in the city. He was quick to achieve success, having his first painting exhibited in a national show in 1871. In 1873 he visited Rome, then returned to live and work there from 1876-81.
He was influenced first by the Macchiaioli and then by Impressionism, and from 1874 adopted a looser, impressionist style. He also abandoned his previous history subjects, and concentrated on family scenes, female nudes, and everyday life. From 1884-6 he taught at the Academy in Valencia, and among his pupils was Sorolla.
His paintings were awarded gold medals in 1887 and 1899.
He died in 1916.
Although very few of his paintings are available online, most appear quite impressionist, with loose brushwork and bright colours. His earlier and small landscape Malvarrosa Beach (1887) appears more strongly influenced by the Macchiaioli, though.
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923)
Born in Valencia in 1863, he was orphaned at the age of 2 when there was a cholera epidemic. He was brought up by an aunt and uncle, and because of his obvious aptitude he started learning to draw in evening classes in 1876. He enrolled in the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts, Valencia, in 1878, and the following year set up his studio, where he coloured photographs for a photographer and painted.
He travelled to Madrid in 1881 to study the Masters, being influenced by Velázquez, and exhibited in the National Fine Arts Exhibition there. After that he studied at the Spanish Academy in Rome. In 1885 he spent the summer in Paris, where he was influenced by impressionism, and the work of Bastien-Lepage and Adolf von Menzel in particular.
He returned to Valencia for a period in 1888, when he married, then went back with his wife to Rome. The couple settled in Madrid at the end of 1889, where he painted large works for salons and International Expositions. His first great successes were a gold medal at the Munich International Art Exhibition and a first class medal at the International Fine Arts Exhibition in Madrid, both in 1892; the same painting then won first prize at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago the following year.
Return from Fishing (1894) was exhibited at the Paris Salon, earning him a gold medal and sale to the French State.
Sewing the Sail (1896) was painted on the beach during the family summer vacation in Valencia; the following year it received an award at the Paris Salon and a gold medal at the International Art Exhibition in Munich, and earned him the Grand Medal of the Austrian State when shown in Vienna in 1898.
His large Sad Inheritance (1898), showing children who had been crippled by polio, won him the Grand Prix and medal of honour at the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris, and a medal in Madrid the following year. In 1900 he made friends with John Singer Sargent, Giovanni Boldini, Anders Zorn, and PS Krøyer in Paris, and gave preparatory sketches for this work to Sargent and William Merritt Chase. He painted an increasing number of portraits, which were well received when exhibited in Madrid in 1901. In 1903 he was elected an academician in both Portugal and Spain.
In 1906 he had a solo exhibition of nearly 500 works at the dealer Georges Petit’s gallery in Paris, which was a critical and commercial triumph. However later exhibitions in Germany and London were less successful. He moved to the mountains of El Pardo outside Madrid for most of 1907 for the sake of his daughter’s health; later that year he painted a commissioned portrait of King Alfonso XIII.
In 1908 he was made a member of The Hispanic Society of America, exhibiting there the following year. This led to several major commissions for portraits, including that of President Taft.
He returned to the USA for a second visit in 1911, touring to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum with a solo exhibition of over 150 paintings. He was then commissioned to paint 14 large murals for the Hispanic Society of America building in Manhattan. Entitled Vision of Spain, these depict the provinces of Spain, and all but one were painted plein air.
He completed the final panel of the murals in 1919, by which time he was exhausted. He suffered a stroke whilst painting a portrait in his garden in 1920, which prevented him from painting again. His health slowly deteriorated, and he died in 1923.
Sorolla painted in impressionist style for most of his career, although his brushwork did tighten up when his subject or commission required it. He was a very rapid and physical worker, often attacking huge canvases with large and very long brushes plein air. His paintings of the seaside are both distinctive and some of the greatest essays on light ever completed. He is not just a painter’s painter, but deserves recognition as a true modern Master.
There are no books in print in English which give any coverage to Pinazo, but Sorolla has recently enjoyed a resurgence of interest. My favourite of the new crop is:
Pons-Sorolla B (2012) Sorolla, the Masterworks, Skira. ISBN 978 0 8478 3933 9. (A beautiful large-format collection of many of his finest works, with an interleaved biography and many excellent photos, by his great-granddaughter. Highly recommended.)