The Sorolla donation
Museum receives the donation of a painting by Joaquín Sorolla
Blanca Pons-Sorolla, great-granddaughter of Joaquín Sorolla and author of the catalogue raisonné of the painter’s work, was delighted to hear of the re-discovery of this picture, which, under Sorolla’s will, was left to his daughter Elena Sorolla García. Until now, the painting’s whereabouts had remained unknown, the only record of the work being a poor quality black-and-white photograph in the archives of the Hispanic Society of America in New York.
An exciting new addition to the Museum’s Sorolla section, until now comprising three major paintings: Kissing the Relic (1893) (room 18), Portrait of the Painter Mañanós (1903) (room 19) and Portrait of Unamuno (c. 1912) (room 29). Seven other paintings at the Museum are in temporary deposit from a number of private collections and are on show in room 25.
Joaquín Sorolla is one of the most widely appreciated artists in late 19th century and early 20th century Spanish painting. Before settling into his definitive, light-drenched style, in the 1890s he painted scenes on religious themes illustrating episodes of popular devotion inside Baroque churches in Valencia. One of the best known of these is Kissing the Relic (1893), the masterwork that finally cemented his reputation as an artist. Kissing the Relic is now in the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum collection.
A number of unfinished paintings by Sorolla, with similar themes and the same kind of narrative drive, also date from this period. They are for the most part preliminary studies and sketches, some of which eventually saw the light of day as finished paintings. Others, like this new addition to the Museum collection, were never taken beyond the early stages.
Despite being unfinished, Charity Stall provides a compelling insight into Sorolla’s interests at the time and is also a major aid in understanding how the artist went about his work. The painting reveals the young Sorolla’s already highly developed powers of description and just how good he was at portraying popular types and characters. Particularly striking here are the man in the cape and the woman in a colourful shawl, both evidencing Sorolla’s skill in capturing the fleeting moment.
Space in the picture is organized by the horizontal arrangement of the church’s wooden benches. This arrangement would very probably have been enhanced by the perspective afforded by the lines of the paving, insinuated in the black stroke visible in the lower left angle. Sorolla made frequent use of this rather academic device in a number of similar paintings.
The way the light modulates also helps to define space within the painting. It runs from the final plane with the gilded and carved wooden candle-lit altar, to the area on the left with the stall set against the ceramic tile frieze. And here we come to the popular theme that provides the title of the painting: a table set close to the altar where local women organized charity campaigns collecting alms or selling religious books, medals and scapularies of the sort held by members of the congregation.
Sorolla painted the picture on a canvas to which he had previously applied a medium grey primer visible at several points. The primer gives the work as a whole a remarkable unity of colour. Brown, green, earth, grey and black tones predominate, with some audacious touches of orange-tinged yellow applied to the light of the candles and in the flesh tones of some of the characters.
Following his usual technique, Sorolla, started from stains of very diluted, almost transparent colour, which he then used to define the volumes he required. This is particularly clear in the foreground, the floor and on the right of the composition. He then built up the elements of the painting with broad, loose brushstrokes.
The original drawing was probably very sketchy and Sorolla must have closed it up as he applied the colours. On the left of the painting, on the table covered with a garnet flap and a white cloth, traces of black paint are visible, which appear to be the outline of a highly synthesized drawing. In the large altar painting hinted at on the left Sorolla improvised, with no preliminary drawing and an extraordinarily spontaneous line, a lamp in the shape of a candle holder.
Objects and characters are defined with rapid and in some cases zigzag brushstrokes. But this apparent freedom is understandable, as Sorolla had clearly not reached the final phase of the painting process. Faces are merely suggested, the one of the woman seated on the left coming closest to conclusion. Some details, like the scapularies, help to identify the masses of colour as people on seats. Only a few elements are close to being finished: the lower part of the altar with the tabernacle housing the sagrarium, with the richly vibrant light of the candles, the printed shawl of the woman at the centre of the composition and Sorolla’s trademark touches of light in the flesh tones, which seem to hark forward to the kind of light found on the eastern Mediterranean beaches he would soon be capturing in his famous sea-side and marine pictures.
Joaquín Sorolla (Valencia, 1863–Cercedilla, Madrid, 1923)
Charity Stall, c. 1892
Oil on canvas. 86 x 106,8 cm
Bilbao Fine Arts Museum
A donation made in 2013