Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla is sometimes called an Impressionist, an inaccurate label but an inevitable comparison. His canvases are flooded with sunlight and the effects of sun and shadow on people, objects, landscapes and particularly on the surface of water, often portrayed in paintings of the sun-drenched beaches in his native Valencia.
Like the French “painters of light”, he worked en plein air, painting in the natural light of the scene he was depicting rather than taking the work into the studio as was the practice in the 19th century. Also like the Impressionists, he often used strokes of pure color, letting the eye optically “mix” the final colors rather than blending to a smooth finish.
Despite the similarities, Sorolla was actually more of a realist, or a “Sorollaist”, than an adherent of the Impressionists’ ideals and principles. Sarolla had his own unique vision and approach. It makes as much sense to compare him to Courbet or Corot as to the Impressionists; although it’s enlightening to view his work in relation to those Impressionists who painted more directly, like Sisley and Caillebotte. A more apt comparison might be John Singer Sargent, who also shared some characteristics with the Impressionists but was essentially a realist, a painter of light and an adherent of his own unique style.
Sorolla was particularly fascinated with the play of sunlight on cloth: clothing, towels, sheets or sails, as well as scenes of young children playing in the sunlight on the beach. He was prolific, painted rapidly and often felt free to leave areas of his canvas unfinished or rendered with a few quick strokes of color. When it came to color, Sorolla was a master of defying convention, juxtaposing colors that ordinary painters of his day would never have placed together, in some ways anticipating the Modedrnist movement that would eventually shove him and many other important realists into ill-deserved obscurity.
Sorolla is much less well known than he should be today as a result. He is regaining attention and respect however, as the foam of the Modernist wave washes back into the sea and the solid bedrock of realism is revealed again. There is a nice appreciation from Peter Saint-André, but I’ve found little on the web in the way of Sorolla biographies in English.
Thankfully, that is not the case with his painting, there are many rich troves of images of Sorolla’s paintings, both in English and Spanish. Some of them are listed below. There is also a nice book: Joaquin Sorolla by Blanca Pons-Sorolla. There is a Sorolla Museum containing examples of Sorolla’s work, (along with a collection put together by Sorolla of the works of other artists) and a recreation of the artist’s studio, in Sorolla’s former house in Madrid.