For many of my paintings these days, I depict people bathed in strong sunlight. For guidance and inspiration I often turn to the work of Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923), an influential Spanish painter who excelled in portraits, genre paintings, landscapes, and monumental works featuring the people and countryside of his beloved Valencia and other parts of Spain.
Sorolla is especially known for his scenes of people in strong sunlight on the beach, like the painting above. He was a master at color and value, using those tools to create the sense of a warm, blinding light from the sun above as well as many colors of reflected light bathing his subjects in a luminous glow.
Joaquín Sorolla's draftsmanship of the human body was also superb, reinforced by a lifetime of drawing and painting from life. Even for the largest paintings he would haul his canvases and easels to the seashore or the countryside, and have his models pose in the sun while he quickly and deftly painted with large brushes and mounds of paint.
His images beautifully captured movement and emotions, showing swirling wind-caught fabrics and thoughtful expressions. Sorolla's depictions of children are especially sensitive and perceptive without being maudlin. His wife and two daughters posed for many of his genre paintings of women like the one below.
I love this painting for its soft, relaxed mood, and the way the dappled sunlight and cool shadows convey the sense of a warm afternoon at home. I especially enjoy the punctuation of the black shoes under the pretty dresses, and the family dog at the women's feet.
Sorolla painted many portraits of friends and family, but also commissions for wealthy individuals like Louis Comfort Tiffany (above), and for royalty including the King of Spain and his family. I find all of his portraits masterly composed and beautifully painted, conveying the personality of the sitter as well as a compelling atmosphere.
About twenty years ago I was able to visit the Hispanic Society of America in upper Manhattan. Their headquarters contain many of Sorolla's original paintings on canvas as well as his series of huge murals depicting different areas of Spain. The murals were commissioned by the Society, and work on them dominated the last years of the artist's life. I found the experience of seeing all this magnificent work together to be awe- inspiring.
I hope to go back to the Hispanic Society some day and also to visit the Museo Sorolla in Madrid, Spain to see the large collection of his works that are housed there, donated by his widow. Joaquín Sorolla's work continues to inspire me.