Sunday, December 21, 2014

Photos of Sorolla Painting

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (Spanish, 1863-1923) executed many of his famous paintings outdoors under the most challenging conditions, and fortunately there are photographs to show his ingenious panting setups.

I can't imagine a more dynamic and difficult subject: children, fabric, moving water, animals, and boats in the surf, contre-jour lighting, and probably sand, spectators, and worst of all, wind. All in a day's work for Sr. Sorolla.
He's working on a folding wooden tripod easel that was pretty typical for his times. His palette is resting on a low folding chair or table to his left. Even with the wide stance of the tripod, a gust of wind would blow this thing over. He always has a nice suit of clothes, good shoes, and a different hat.

The palette is in the left hand, and there's a chair on the right with the paint and brushes easy to reach. There's probably a farmer out of frame with a bowl of scraps doled out slowly to keep the pigs in place.

He's sitting this time, which lowers the center of windage. The paint box is on the chair at right. If that's an assistant, he seems to be holding another chair. 

The kids are taking turns as models. There seems to be a weight hanging from the easel to stabilize it, and the top of the panting appears to be resting against the rope. Judging from the fabric bellying out at right, the wind is a factor.

Now he's working much larger. The stretched canvas is mounted on a hefty wooden base structure, perhaps with some wood pieces driven down into the sand. The ladder/scaffold lets him reach higher in the picture. A couple of assistants are there to help. 

Here's what he is working on. Even with models for the kid and the horse to look at, there's a lot of memory work involved here.

Now he's working on the epic mural project on the peoples of Spain. He has enlisted local models to pose outdoors in costume. The large canvas is held vertical with weighted diagonals, and the base of the canvas is about a foot off the ground.

In his studio, he often has his palette on a low table and used long brushes to be able to paint with a full arm reach, backing up as far as he could to compare the painting to the model.

Here he's painting in the garden of the manor "Vista Alegre." He has portable stairs to stand on and a wooden box for his paints. There's a box-like structure built around the whole gigantic painting, and some shear fabric held up on both sides, which was described as "an awning to protect the paint." 

It looks like a set-up that he could leave deployed for a while. An observer recalled seeing "the construction of a large boardwalk outdoors where he could install his paintings and a scaffold to support the frame weight." The models were employees of the estate, and he also needed to hire a translator because he had difficulty understanding Galician. (Read more about this on a Spanish website.)

The big painting seen in the photo is "Galicia," one of the murals from the Hispanic Society in New York.


Tom Hart said...

Amazing post! Thanks for putting it up. I'm sure there's a range, but does any of your research suggest how long it took to do these larger outdoor paintings? I have to think that most, if not all, required multiple days, and presumably were (as I understand Monet did) worked on during a rather limited lighting window.

Charley Parker said...

These are wonderful! Thanks.

My understanding is that, unlike Monet — who painted slowly, even though people tend to assume otherwise from the look of his brush strokes — Sorolla actually painted quite rapidly.

Mitch said...

Thanks for the wonderful view in the behind the scene action. I didn't realize Sorolla was working on such grand scale outdoors.
And hey! a shout out to Charley Parker, too: love your website as well.

Anonymous said...

As a youngster I remember first seeing photos of famous painters of the late 19th-early 20th century and they were painting in three piece suits, patent leather shoes, etc. I thought I couldn't paint an 8 X 10 without getting paint everywhere, that's what it must mean to be a great painter, you have to be very, very tidy. There was no hope for me! Besides, who wants to stand on a beach in 90 deg heat, wind howling, dressed in a three piece suit.
When a bit older I spoke to a historian who had helped curate an exhibit of fly fishing art and photography. Much of the work from that early era. I'd commented on the images of men and women impeccably dressed while fishing, standing in the river, most with waders I think, in a suit! He put it in perspective for me when he said that with photography in its infancy having a photo was a special occasion. the process was well planed, carefully staged and relatively expensive (of course before the Brownie). People wore their finest. Whew, there was still hope for a slob like me. I could then imagine Sargent, alone in his studio, no cameras about, probably in sweat pants and a smiley face tee shirt, stained with hundreds of paint blotches.

Enzie Shahmiri said...

I can't get over the size of those canvases . Just transporting them must have been a nightmare, let alone keeping them from falling over every time the wind picked up.

Mary Aslin said...

I have studied Sorolla, read the books and have been to the Hispanic Society in New York and have seen his work in person, most notably in his studio in Madrid. I simply cannot overstate what a genius I believe this man was.

Thank you for the great summary of his working process, as limited as it is.

Beth said...

Wow! Thank you for this post James.

Andra said...

So interesting to see! Of course, having lots of hired help would make transporting and setting up much easier, but still, such big scale! It's also the first time I've noticed the painting slanted top towards the artist - I understand why - ease of access, avoiding paint drips, no reflections, but I'd not seen that before. Fascinating!

Bryan Tipton said...

Wonderful post. Sorolla's exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art was one of my all time favorite shows -- went five times -- learning something new each visit. Fascinating to see how he worked.

Ted Davis said...

The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana has a huge wonderful collection of Sorollas. Went there a few years ago and was one of maybe three people in the entire place as local Cubans could not afford the month's wages ($15)it cost to get in. With the thaw in relations it would be a great museum to visit. Your top-notch website is a daily visit for me!

Rich said...

There were no jeans yet in those times.