Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light, National Gallery Ireland, 10 August-3 November 2019

Fifty three paintings from one of Spain’s most celebrated artists, Joaquìn Sorolla (1863-1923,) are on exhibition at our very own National Gallery. On now until the 3rd November 2019 in the Beit Wing of the gallery. The ads for the exhibition kept catching my eye as I trod my usual dash through the gallery from Merrion Square to Grafton Street. A frequent route as it is usually the Merrion Square my parking angel leads me to when I am visiting Dublin, and it is usually Grafton street I am headed for. I was delighted then, the other day, when a friend rang to see if I wanted to join her to visit this exhibition. We booked our tickets on-line—this is a ticketed slot exhibition—and off we went. Before I embarked on my little visit I had to look up the artist as I am a complete novice when it comes to the artists of past times.

                                                                                                                                                Self portrait

So here is the research bit. Sorolla was born in 1863 in Valencia, Spain. When he was 2 years old his parents died in a cholera epidemic. He and his sister were adopted by his maternal aunt and her husband. From a very young age he showed a great interest in, and talent for, drawing. Luckily for us this was encouraged by his adoptive parents and he went on to study art. When he was at the Fine Art Academy in Valencia he met the well-known photographer Antonio Garcia. While working in Garcia’s studio he met Clotilde, Garcia’s daughter. They married in 1888. They had a very loving relationship and Sorolla was a devoted family man.

The late 19th century saw great exhibitions in Europe and Sorolla sent many of his large paintings to these exhibitions so that he could be recognized internationally. He won numerous awards for these paintings.

In 1912 Sorolla was commissioned by the millionaire Arthur Milton Huntington to decorate the Library of the Hispanic Society of New York. It took him 8 years to finish this work and he traveled relentlessly across Spain to gather subjects for his large panels. Sadly he never saw his work installed in New York. He died in August 1923 and was buried like a state hero.

                                                                                                                    Panels in the Library of the Hispanic Society of New York

But back to the here and now and our delightful morning spent with the Master of light. The curators of this exhibition—Dr Brendan Rooney and Dr Aoife Brady—have done a tremendous job in compartmentalising Sorolla’s work by devoting each room to a different theme and era.

The first room is filled with paintings of his much-loved family. Most striking is the dazzlingly gentle white painting of his wife Clotilde and their baby daughter Elena lying in bed. He took a few years to complete this painting and changed the angle of the heads many times. He finally settled on the mother facing towards the baby in a loving composition.










Another room is devoted to Sorolla’s social realist works.He believed that art could help mend societies ills. It is these paintings that he sent to international exhibitions, some of which won prestigious awards.

Sad Inheritance,1899         The contradiction between the deep rich blue of the sea and the frail delicate bodies of the crippled boys in the foreground of this picture is resounding. The picture is very beautiful but at the same time tells a very sad story. It is said that this may have been the picture that started Sorolla’s many paintings of children playing by the sea.

Another room in this exhibition was filled with just these vibrant and joyful paintings. Paintings Sorolla did of his beloved Valencia and the Mediterranean sea. These vibrant paintings sing and beckon, lure you in and immediately made me want to experience the sea, the sparkle and even for a brief moment I felt a warm stroke on my back. The wish is there to visit Valencia.


Much of his work was painted plein art, the brush strokes are vibrant, quick and definite. The viewer can feel the energy of life happening before one’s eyes. Two of my favourite paintings in the exhibition were cleverly placed side by side to vividly present Sorolla’s skill at painting light and shadow.

There is still time to catch this exhibition and I implore you to make the trip, parking angel usually to be found on Merrion Square.


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