Thursday, March 1, 2018

Sorolla Painting on the Beach

How did Joaquín Sorolla (Spanish 1863-1923) paint his sun-drenched beach scenes? A 1901 photo of his working set-up provides some clues.

Sorolla painting on a beach in Valencia
There's a black drape set up on poles around three sides of his easel. A white umbrella is erected on a pole above him. The setup shelters him from the wind, the direct sun, and the glare from in front and behind.

Joaquín Sorolla, Valencia Beach, Morning Sun, 1901
Height: 80 cm (31.5 in.), Width: 127.3 cm (50.12 in.)
Here's the painting he appears to be working on in that photo. Note that the man at left of the composition is wearing a light shirt and his elbow is out in the final painting, but in the photo, his outfit appears darker, and the hat and the sail are different. Also, the lady seems to have started with a lighter skirt and ended with a darker one.

It's possible that he worked on this painting over a few consecutive mornings, and substituted models from one day to the next, or asked them to change to a different costume for the next day. A scene like this would be constructed in parts, with elements brought in when they are available or when they're needed.
Previously: Dagnan-Bouveret's Greenhouse Studio and Easel on Rails
Wikipedia on Joaquin Sorolla
Book: Sorolla: The Masterworks
The photo comes from the book: Sorolla-Zorn: Museo Sorolla,1992 (Spanish Edition)


Jim Douglas said...

So basically Sorolla DIDN'T work outside of a studio on the beach; he built a temporary studio there. His "beach studio" had a movable foundation, three dark walls, a translucent ceiling, and a floor-to-ceiling window on the fourth wall with a sweeping view of the ocean. Sorolla really didn't abandon the studio process. I don't mean to sound flippant or belittle his accomplishments. It's just fascinating to realize how much effort, planning, logistics and discipline went into producing a painting that feels bold, spontaneous and impressionistic.

James Gurney said...

Jim, I think you've hit on the essence of Sorolla, Zorn, Krøyer, and Sargent: Going to great lengths to make it look dashed off and easy.

From what I've learned about all four them, they all preferred to work as much as possible from life (though they would sometimes work from sketches or memory or photos if necessary to reach their goal).

To accomplish Sorolla's beach scene subjects, yes, he sometimes improvised a clever studio-like setup, and he was working very large, where wind was a true issue. When he or Kroyer were working with giant canvases on the beach, they needed support stays to keep them vertical in the wind. Several academic painters, including Dagnan Bouveret and Tissot, had greenhouse extensions built onto the side of their studio so that they could paint in outdoor light while still in the comfort of the indoors.

Emanuele Fittipaldi said...

Sorolla didn't seem to employ this dark wall fabric everytime he worked outside. I have the sorolla book published by taschen where, there are often images where he basically stood outside without anything else than his canvnvas and brushes. But here's the secret according to me : If you pay attention to these photos you can clearly see that he painted always somewhat against the direction of the light(usually when the sun is high in the sky , maybe to not have it directly in the eyes) in order to let canvas cast its own shadow on himself. I think that he managed to do that by adding some sort of wood panel in the back of the canvas , because from the pictures you can see that ther's no light shine through that would distract and make impossible painting. I think it is a very cleaver method

James Gurney said...

Emanuele, you're right -- I've seen other photos of him working on the Regions of Spain murals, huge canvases, and there are no drapes around him. Having dark cloth behind you would be a big help to cut down on glare from the shiny oil paint, especially when painting contre-jour (toward the light). In fact I'm surprised he wears a white suit (as Kroyer also did) when painting contre jour because any white garment is going to cause a glare problem.

Karl Kanner said...

Awesome post! After all that effort to block out direct sunlight, he still wore a white suit :D

James Gurney said...

Karl, yeah, right? Like the guy who buys a car with white upholstery, then eats take-out burgers in it.

Mer Almagro said...

However, dark garments in Valencia's sun is suicide!!
a goth from Barcelona ;D

scottT said...

Besides the draftsmanship and bravura brush work, Sorolla (and the above mentioned Zorn and Sargent) had such command of values. It really knocks me out. When I studied art history, facility was like a bad word. It seems artists who had great skill and finish and made it look easy were suspect and seen as superficial. I sense a new critical appreciation coming for these painters.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post and thread. I'm a big fan of Sorolla, Zorn and Sargent but hadn't heard of Krøyer before. Just googled his paintings. Looks like he was influenced by Sorolla in his subject matter. He doesn't quite have the bravura brushwork of the others though.

My Pen Name said...

Sorolla was known to hire two models at the same time and swap them out so he could keep painting while one or the other took a break. He HATED the studio and/or not painting from life (but still did it)

Unknown said...

I coincidentally heard someone talking about painters in photographs from that time period, and they mentioned how these photos have to be taken with a grain of salt because having a picture taken was a big event back then and people were basically posing for a picture. So, it's possible that they were posing and setting up certain elements that maybe they weren't exactly always doing when working, like wearing a suit for example.

James Gurney said...

Robert, I used to think that artists dressed up every time someone got out a camera, but the more I've read and learned, the less I think that is true, especially in these outdoor at-work photos. By 1900, compact, portable Kodak cameras were very common, and there are plenty of photos of people in public situations. You'll always find men with a hat and a jacket, even in crowd scenes. Written accounts say that men would apologize to a lady when they were in their shirt sleeves.

Gavin said...

It looks like quite a small canvas (and short brush handle) compared to some of his plein air work, but still way more than most of us would ever want to tackle! I read that he was a very fast painter, slapping on paint in the way a lot of people stereotype how an artist works. I think he must have had a very clear vision in his mind of exactly where he was heading.

John VanHouten said...

And people wonder why we use photographic reference now!