Sheer Delight 11: Sorolla and Zorn

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923), Sewing the Sail (1896), oil on canvas, 220 x 302 cm, Museo d`Arte Moderna di Ca' Pesaro, Venice, Italy. Image by Flaviaalvarez, via Wikimedia Commons.

Having looked in the previous article at how the first of the three modern masters depicted clothing and fabrics, this article turns to the other two, Joaquín Sorolla from Spain and Anders Zorn from Sweden. Both had the benefits of classical education, and started their careers as realists in that tradition.

Sorolla 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.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, Café in Paris (1885), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, location not known. WikiArt.
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923), Café in Paris (1885), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, location not known. WikiArt.

In 1885 he spent the summer in Paris, where he was influenced by Impressionism, and the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage (who had died only six months earlier) and Adolf von Menzel in particular. His painterly Café in Paris was made at that time. Although the background is very loose, detail in the woman’s fashionable dress is finer and more deliberate.

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Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923), White Slave Trade (1895), oil on canvas, 166.5 x 194 cm, Museo Sorolla, Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

From that light Impressionism, Sorolla embraced Bastien-Lepage’s Naturalism. One of the paintings he exhibited successfully at the Salon in 1895 was White Slave Trade (1895), an epitome of the contemporary trade in prostitutes in Spain.

Set in a bleak railway compartment, four young women are asleep while being transported in the care of a much older woman. In contrast to their guardian, who wears black, the young women are dressed in bright-coloured Valencian regional costumes, and wear fashionable shoes. Their few possessions are stacked on the bench at the right, and include a guitar. The ‘slave trade’ to which Sorolla’s title refers is, of course, the movement of prostitutes between brothels.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, Maria Painting in El Pardo (1907), oil on canvas, 82 x 106 cm, Private collection. WikiArt.
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923), Maria Painting in El Pardo (1907), oil on canvas, 82 x 106 cm, Private collection. WikiArt.

Following the turn of the century, Sorolla’s style loosened again, as demonstrated in this oil sketch of Maria Painting in El Pardo from 1907, which shows much in common with the style of John Singer Sargent at that time. Like Sargent, by this time he had completed a great many portraits, although Sorolla was notorious for painting them on a grand scale and at great speed using exceedingly long brushes.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, After the Bath (1908), oil on canvas, 176 x 111.5 cm, Hispanic Society of America, New York. WikiArt.
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923), After the Bath (1908), oil on canvas, 176 x 111.5 cm, Hispanic Society of America, New York. WikiArt.

Among his finest paintings of fabrics are those of women bathing on the beach of Valencia, his home town. After the Bath (1908) uses transmitted light to show how thin these fabrics are, and has the same luminous glow as the sails of the fishing boats.

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Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923), Strolling along the Seashore (1909), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Museo Sorolla, Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

For the more formal promenade, when being seen was probably the main purpose, full dress, from exuberant hat to immaculate white shoes, was still required, as in his Strolling along the Seashore from 1909.

Anders Zorn was raised on a farm in central Sweden, and studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm. He established himself as a portraitist, initially in watercolour, and became one of the rising stars of art at the end of the nineteenth century.

Anders Zorn, Castles in the Air (1885), watercolour on paper, 37 x 26 cm, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden. WikiArt.
Anders Zorn (1860–1920), Castles in the Air (1885), watercolour on paper, 37 x 26 cm, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden. WikiArt.

Zorn’s portrait painting took him throughout Europe, with visits to Spain and Algeria in 1887. This is a good example of the finely detailed realism of his early watercolours, and of the influence of Japonism.

Anders Zorn, Man and Boy in Algiers (1887), watercolour, 48.7 x 34.7 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.
Anders Zorn (1860–1920), Man and Boy in Algiers (1887), watercolour, 48.7 x 34.7 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

His watercolour of a Man and Boy in Algiers, from his visit in 1887, remains precise in its depiction of their lightweight white djellabas.

Towards the end of the century, after he had switched to painting in oils, his brushwork loosened considerably.

Anders Zorn, Mrs Potter Palmer (1893), oil on canvas, 258 x 141.2 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. Wikimedia Commons.
Anders Zorn (1860–1920), Mrs Potter Palmer (1893), oil on canvas, 258 x 141.2 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. Wikimedia Commons.

Zorn’s portrait of Mrs (Bertha) Potter Palmer is particularly relevant to Impressionism, as she was one of the early purchasers of substantial numbers of Impressionist paintings, many from the dealer Durand-Ruel. Her husband had started the store which became Marshall Field’s, and had large investments in a luxury hotel and property. She took an active part in the business, and in the year of this portrait was head of the Board of Lady Managers at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which opened just before she sat for Zorn.

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Anders Zorn (1860–1920), Night Effect (1895), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Zornmuseet, Mora, Sweden. Image by Szilas, via Wikimedia Commons.

Zorn continued to paint more serious themes too. When other artists in Paris were passing social comment in their depictions of prostitution in the city, he painted Night Effect (1895). This working woman’s face and posture declare that she is drunk, swaggering unsteadily from one of the multitude of cafés. For the artist, it was as much about the city’s decadence as it was an exercise in coping with difficult light. What might appear to have been an extemporised sketch was the result of a series of careful sketches and studies in graphite and oil, as he reconciled its unusual combination of electric and gas lighting.

In 1911, Zorn visited the USA to paint the portraits of both the incumbent President, William Howard Taft, and his Vice-President, James Schoolcraft Sherman.

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Anders Zorn (1860–1920), William Howard Taft (1911), oil on canvas, 117.8 x 89.2 cm, The White House, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Zorn’s portrait of William Howard Taft (1911) was both painted and hung in the White House. Taft was in the middle of the twenty-seventh presidency, having been elected in 1909. Following his defeat in the election of 1912, he returned to Yale as a professor, and in 1921 was appointed Chief Justice of the United States, the only President to have held both offices. During his election campaign, photos of Taft were used to advantage, suggesting that the President was particular about this image too. The light touch of painterliness in his clothing is well-controlled.

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Anders Zorn (1860–1920), Dance in Gopsmorkate (1914), oil on canvas, 120 x 90 cm, Zornmuseet, Mora, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1914, Zorn painted this marvellous Dance in Gopsmorkate, in which he uses bold brushstrokes to capture the movement of clothes while dancing.

These three modern masters continued mainstream painting through into the twentieth century. Next week, I’ll look briefly at Costumbrism and Frou-frou.