Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light review

Art
3 out of 5 stars
Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light review
Joaquín Sorolla 'The Pink Robe (La bata rosa)' (1916) © Museo Sorolla, Madrid

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida has slipped through the cracks. Art history can be a cruel bastard, and it’s hard to figure out where he fits in all of it: behind the Spanish painter are the waves of innovation of the French Impressionists, ahead of him is the birth of modernism, and hanging over it all are the imposing shadows of the Spanish greats, Velázquez and Goya. Bad timing, really.

Sorolla found fame by tackling big, dark social themes like infanticide, poverty and childhood disability. These enormous works elevate the struggles of the everyday to a monumental scale, but they’re not exactly beautiful paintings. Apart from the dappling of light in ‘Sewing the Sail’ and the shocking composition of ‘Sad Inheritance!’, with its ghostly, faceless disabled children, these are relatively unremarkable works.

His portraiture crumbles under the blacks, reds and greys of Velázquez and Goya, his landscapes are a bit iffy, and his depictions of people in traditional dress are just a bit naff and old-fashioned. There’s also something about his faces that leaves them looking like dressed corpses, prepared to lie in state.

But there are also moments of excellence here. Sorolla’s way with dappled light is gorgeous, particularly in the intimate image of two women in a beach cabin, or the lovely depictions of his family in the garden. The shimmering nude with its rippling pink silks is lovely, and the near-total white-out vision of his wife in bed with their newborn baby is tender and beautiful.

So Sorolla ends up being neither rigidly traditional nor particularly forward-thinking, neither exceptional nor awful, and in the process he gets a bit lost. He’s not a great painter, but he is a good one, with some great moments. Hey, we can’t all be Monets. Some of us have to be Sorollas. 

@eddyfrankel

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