Joaquin Sorolla was once quoted to have said, “I do not care to paint portraits indoors. I cannot feel sympathetic.”
Best known for painting rural landscapes, social scenes, and his beloved Mediterranean coast, Sorolla strived to capture the brilliance of light. If you spend any time in the sun-drenched landscapes of Spain, this fixation is fully understandable. From the warm orange glow reflected off whitewashed houses in the afternoon, to the spectrum of blues merging along the ocean’s horizon, Spain is vibrant with a rich and colorful heritage.
Sorolla stood out by painting the people and landscapes of his home beyond the aesthetic realm. He had a uniquely deep understanding of his subjects, and it was his empathy, not his technique, that allowed him to masterfully illuminate them on canvas.
His most successful painting, ‘Sad Inheritance’ (1899), is also the only overtly socially conscious work in his collection. Painted in the wake of the polio epidemic, ‘Sad Inheritance’ depicts a group of crippled children bathing in sunlight—in true Sorolla fashion—supervised by a monk.
Through his paintings, Sorolla offered a glimpse of the world through his eyes—a positive interpretation of a negative situation. While others would have fixated on the tragedy of the crippled children, Sorolla evoked their beauty, rendering them in angelic light. Orphaned at a young age, Sorolla was no stranger to hardship, so his appreciation of life is as authentic as it is impressive.
“He was very positive,” explains Blanca Sorolla, the artist’s great-granddaughter and curator of the Sorolla Museum. “He was someone who loved the life.”
Sorolla achieved great popularity within his lifetime, influencing fellow Spanish painters Julio Romero de Torres and Alberto Pla y Rubio so much that their works are considered ‘sorollista.’
Sorolla’s success is by no means resigned to the past. More than a century later, his work still wins fresh admirers. His paintings still rotate through many renowned institutions around the world, including the Getty Museum, the Prado, and the Petit Palais.
With rising technology and social media constantly bombarding us with disconnection, the appeal of Sorolla is in his ability to offer re-connection. There is an unmistakable intimacy in his work. The photographic style of framing in ‘A Walk on the Beach’ invites the viewer to participate in the scene, rather than just look on.
To see the world through a Sorolla painting is to see light, life, and energy. In what can sometimes feel like an increasingly divided world, it is comforting to witness personal moments that remind us of our human similarities as Sorolla depicted them.
There is no better place to gain an understanding of Sorolla than his home and workshop in Madrid. Upon his death, Sorolla’s widow bequeathed many of his works to the Spanish public so that they may continue to celebrate the beauty of life , as he did. The collection, known as the Museo Sorolla, is now accommodated in his former house in Madrid. Surrounded by gardens reflecting tranquility and elegance, the property remains almost unchanged since his death.
In his studio, light floods in through an entirely glass ceiling, and his spirit warms the room.
Visit Sorolla’s studio and home on a behind-the-scenes tour with Blanca Sorolla when you reserve InterContinental Madrid’s exclusive Insider Experience.