Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1488)
Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1488)

When you walk around an art gallery I wonder how long you spend in front of each painting.  I suppose it depends on the type of painting and whether it is part of a crowded special exhibition when you are jostled from one painting to the next by a crowded sea of viewers.  I suppose it also depends on your time management as if you are coming to the end of your allotted time you tend to jump from one picture to the next in a desperate attempt to not miss a single one, although in a way your hurried state probably means that the last few painting remain just a blur in your mind.   So why do I ask this question about time management and carefully appreciating the paintings before us?   The answer is that during a recent visit to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid I had left the room, which housed the fifteenth century art collection till last and I was constantly aware that my time at the museum was running out.   I found myself flitting from one painting to another and I have to admit by doing so I failed to take in the beauty of the works in that section of the gallery.   That was until I came across two stunning works which I could hardly drag myself away from.  They were just such beautiful paintings.  Yes, I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder but for me they were truly exquisite.   I stood before them, totally mesmerised by their intrinsic charm and so I am dedicating my next two blogs to those two 15th century works. 

The Wdding Medalion
The Wdding Medalion

Today I want to offer you a beautifully crafted portrait by the 15th century Italian artist Domenico Ghirlandaio entitled Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni which he completed in 1490 and which is now part of the permanent collection at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.   Giovanna was the wife of Lorenzo Tornabuoni who came from the wealthy Florentine banking family and whose father, Giovanni was Domenico Ghirlandaio’s patron.  We know this is the image of Giovanna as at the time of her marriage to Lorenzo a series of bronze portrait medals with her image were made to commemorate the event and the likeness of the figure on the medal and in the painting is undeniable.   Lorenzo and Giovanna married in June 1486 but sadly she died giving birth to her second son in 1488, at just twenty years of age.  As the portrait was completed after she died, it is thought that it could be looked upon as a kind of remembrance painting.   The painting hung in her husband’s private rooms in the Tornabuoni Palace.

We see Giovanna before us, half-length, in a somewhat rigid profile.  In her hands she clasps a handkerchief.  Giovanna is dressed in the most sumptuous way.  She wears a giornea which is an open-sided over-gown, which is brocaded.  The design on the brocade features the letter “L” and a diamond.   The “L” is her husband, Lorenzo’s initial and the diamond was the Tornabuoni family emblem.  There is no doubt that she is one of Florence’s élite by the way she wears her hair in the very latest Florentine fashion.  The jewels she wears around her neck comprise of two rings and pendant which were given to her by Lorenzo’s family as a wedding gift.  If you look closely at the pendant she wears you will also notice a matching brooch designed in the shape of a dragon which lies on a shelf behind her.   The jewel with its dragon, two pearls and a ruby formed a set with the pendant hanging from a silk cord around her neck.   Behind her, on the shelf, is a prayer book which is thought to be the libriccino da donna (little ladies’ book).  Above the book hangs a string of coral beads which have been identified as a rosary.   Ghirlandaio’s inclusion of this prayer book and the rosary in the painting was testament to Giovanna’s religious beliefs and her piety. 

What did Ghirlandaio think of his sitter?  Will we ever know?  Actually the answer lies within the painting itself because just behind Giovanna’s neck we can see attached to the shelf a cartellino.   A cartellino (Italian for small piece of paper) was a piece of parchment or paper painted illusionistically, often as though attached to a wall or parapet in a painting.  On the cartellino added by Ghirlandaio in this painting are the words:

ARS UTINAM MORES

ANIMUMQUE QUE EFFINGERE

POSSES PULCHRIOR IN TERRIS NULLA TABELLA FORET

 

which translates to:

 

“…Would that you, Art, could portray her character and spirit ;  for then there would be no fairer painting in the world..”.

At the bottom there is the date:

“MCCCCLXXXVIII”. (1488)

By these words there is no doubt Ghirlandaio is excusing himself to Giovanna for his belief that he has not been able to show her real inner beauty.  These are fine words from our artist but in fact they were not quite his own as they are a slight variation on the words of an epigram (a short and concise poem) of the Latin poet Marcus Galerius Martial, whose works were all the rage with the Florentine aristocracy of the day.

My featured artist today was born Domenico di Tommaso Curradi di Doffo Bigordi.  The name was derived in part from his father’s surname Curadi and the surname of his grandfather Bigordi.  He was born in Florence in 1449, the eldest child of Tommaso Bigordi and Antonia di ser Paolo Paoli.  His father was a goldsmith and was well-known for creating metallic garland-like necklaces which were worn by the ladies of Florence, and it was for that reason that Domenico was given the nickname Il Ghirlandaio (garland-maker).   Domenico worked in his father’s jewellery shop and it was during his time there that he started sketching portraits of customers and passers-by.   According to the famous biographer of artists, Giorgio Vasari, Domenico’s father decided to afford his son some formal artistic training and had him apprenticed to the Florentine painters, Alesso Baldovinetti and later Andrea del Verrocchio.

Domenico will always be remembered for his exquisite detailed narrative frescos in which he would incorporate portraits of the local aristocracy resplendent in their finery.  Many of his frescos appeared in local Florentine churches.  In 1482, he also completed a Vatican commission for Pope Sixtus IV – a fresco in the Sistine Chapel entitled Calling of the First Apostles.  The frescos he will probably be best remembered for were two major fresco cycles, which he completed with the help of his brothers, Davide and Benedetto along with his brother-in-law, Bastiano Mainardi, who was one of Domenico’s pupils.

 

The Resurrection of the Boy by St. Francis by Girlandaio
The Resurrection of the Boy by St. Francis by Ghirlandaio

The first of these frescos was for the Sassetti Chapel in the church of St Trinita in Florence.  It had been commissioned by Francesco Sassetti, a rich and powerful banker who worked for the Medici family.  This cycle of frescos was in six parts and depicted the life and times of St. Francis of Assisi, who was Sassetti’s patron saint. Seen within the frescos were a number of portraits of members of the Sassetti family along with some of the leading figures from the Medici family.  To look at the two families within the frescos one would be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that the Sassettis and the Medicis were very close, which of course was precisely the allusion Francesco Sassetti had wished to convey.  Alas for him, the close bond between the two families was all in his mind!

Visitation by Domenico Ghirlandaio
Visitation by Domenico Ghirlandaio

The second fresco cycle, Ghirlandaio’s last, and many art historians believe was his greatest, was commissioned to decorate the Capella Maggiore of the Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence by another banker, Giovanni Tornabuoni, who was related by marriage to the Medicis.   There was a connection between the two fresco cycles as Sassetti had the rights to decorate the Capella Maggiore of the Santa Maria Novella Church and he had wanted to have the frescos in the church depict the life of St Francis.   However the church was in trust to the Dominican order and they refused to allow such a design, so it was then that Sassetti decided to have the St Francis frescos painted instead in the Sassetti Chapel of the St Trinita Church in Florence and he sold the rite to decorating the Capella Maggiore to Giovanni Tornabuoni

 Ghirlandaio had not even completed the Sassetti fresco cycle when he was given this second large scale commission and he had to bring in most of the workers from his large Florentine studio to help him in this four-year project which was finally completed in 1490.  

The reason for talking about this fresco cycle is that I want you look closely at Ghirlandaio’s fresco, the part entitled Visitation.  Look at the third woman from the right.  Do you recognise her?   It is a full length portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni who was the wife of Lorenzo Tornabuoni whose father, Giovanni was the commissioner of the fresco work and who was also my subject of today’s featured work.

The painting had a number of owners but in 1907 the American millionaire financier and philanthropist and founder of the J.P. Morgan bank,  J. Pierpont Morgan bought it in 1907.  It is believed that he adored the painting as it reminded him of his first wife, Amelia Sturgis, who like Giovanna had died very young.  She died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-six, just four months after she and J.P. had married.   It entered the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection from the Morgan Library, New York, in 1935.

Whereas J.P. Morgan had his painting on view in his home to remind him of his wife I have a print of it on my breakfast room wall to remind me of Giovanna’s beauty as I serve guests with their breakfasts.

Advertisements

Jan Siberechts English Country Houses and Landscapes

My Daily Art Display today continues examining the life of the seventeenth century Flemish painter Jan Siberechts and taking a look at some of the paintings he completed after he moved his home to England.  In my previous blog I talked about Siberechts’ early landscape paintings which followed the style of the Dutch Italianate artists of the time.  Then, in the early 1660’s, he worked on a number of paintings depicting Flemish rural life and the life of the peasant community.

View of Longleat by Jan Siberechts (1675)
View of Longleat by Jan Siberechts (1675)

In 1672, at the age of forty-five, Siberechts’ life changed.   Two years earlier, George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, whilst on business in the southern Netherlands came across some of Siberechts’ work.  He was so enamoured by what he saw that he invited the artist to come to England and help decorate his Italianate mansion, Cliveden, which was situated on the bank River Thames near the town of Windsor and which he had built six years earlier.  Jan Siberechts agreed to move home to England and became just one of the hundreds of Dutch and Flemish artists who came to Britain in the seventeenth century to ply their trade.

View of Longleat by Jan Siberechts (1678)
View of Longleat by Jan Siberechts (1678)

Siberechts’ work at Cliveden enhanced his reputation in England as a talented artist and his birds-eye views of stately homes became much sought after.  His recognised artistic ability and his connection with Villiers, led him to be awarded numerous painting commissions from the aristocracy and he was often referred to as being the “father of British landscape painting.

Wollaton Hall and Park by Jan Siberechts (1695)
Wollaton Hall and Park by Jan Siberechts (1695)

These aristocratic commissions from around England were often for paintings of their stately homes.  One such example was his 1695 work entitled Wollaton Hall and Park which was in Nottinghamshire and the home of Thomas Willoughby, 1st Baron Middleton.  Another commission in 1694 was for a painting of Chatsworth, the Derbyshire country house of William Cavendish, the 1st Duke of Devonshire.

Siberechts received a commission in 1675 from Thomas Thynne.  The painting, entitled View of Longleat, depicted his stately home.   The work still hangs in the house.  Three years later Siberechts completed another painting of the building and this is now part of the Government Art Collection.   These depictions of country houses and country estates were very popular with their aristocratic owners and Siberechts was inundated with similar commissions.   In the foreground of this painting we see the aristocratic owners along with their horses, portrayed as huntsmen readying themselves for the hunt.

Another example of this type of work by Jan Siberechts is his 1696 topographical landscape painting entitled View of a House and its Estate in Belsize, Middlesex which he completed in 1696.   In the painting we see a birds-eye view of the The Grove, the house and estate of Sir Francis Pemberton, a leading figure of the English judiciary.  He, along with his wife and seven children, lived there until his death in 1697 just one year after Siberechts had completed the work.   Pemberton had bought the neighbouring Dorchester House and its estate around 1688.  He then demolished that house to make way for his extensive vegetable gardens and orchards.  The all-embracing gardens can be seen surrounding the manor house in Siberechts’ painting.

Landscape with Rainbow, Henley-on-Thames by Jan Siberechts (c.1690)
Landscape with Rainbow, Henley-on-Thames by Jan Siberechts (c.1690)

Jan Siberechts spent a good deal of time travelling around the English countryside fulfilling commissions to paint palatial residences.  Such paintings were interspersed with works featuring hunting scenes and views of the rural landscape.  My last offerings today are also from the 1690’s when Siberechts completed a series of five landscape paintings featuring the town of Henley and the Thames Valley.    There is no record of who commissioned the works but it could well have been one of the many rich merchants who owned land around the town of Henley.     The works were different to his earlier ones featuring stately homes for in this series Siberechts concentrated on the landscape of the area with its pastureland and woods and also included views of the River Thames and the boats which plied their trade along this busy waterway.  One of the best known of these, entitled Landscape with Rainbow, Henley-on-Thames, can be seen at Tate Britain.  It is a beautifully crafted painting.   In the foreground we have cattle and horses grazing in pastureland which slopes down towards the tree-lined banks of the River Thames.  On the left we can see a laden barge, piled high on deck with its cargo, being manoeuvred along the waterway by four men in the field, who laboriously drag the floating hulk towards the warehouses of Henley.  To the right of the painting we see the busy little town of Henley-on-Thames with its high-towered 13th century church, St Mary the Virgin, rising amidst the dwelling places.  The church still stands today.  The background to the right is filled with rising hills, more pastureland and the occasional woods above which are a double rainbow and a dark and threatening rain cloud which is emptying its contents on the fields below.  In the left background of the painting the view has opened up more and we catch a glimpse of the distant hills.

Henley from the Wargrave Road by Jan Siberechts (1698)
Henley from the Wargrave Road by Jan Siberechts (1698)

Another painting in the series was Siberechts 1698 work entitled Henley from the Wargrave Road which hangs in its own room in the Henley Gallery of the River & Rowing Museum, Mill Meadows in Oxfordshire.  This work is a veritable masterpiece which is in a way a historical record of the time depicting the life of the town, its surrounding countryside, and the importance of the commercial trade using the river.  Siberechts has depicted the 17th century buildings of Henley with its old wooden bridge with stone flood arches, the Church and the mill on the river.  In the foreground we can see farm workers busy haymaking in the riverside meadows and a cart fully loaded with hay heading down the country lane towards the town of Henley.  It is interesting to look back at the paintings of Jan Siberechts which I have featured in my last two blogs.  They are so different.  There is a certain simplicity and charm to his 1660’s rural life works but his artistic talent cannot be denied when we study some of his later works which he completed during his days in England.

Jan Siberechts died in London in 1703, aged 76.

 

The Pastoral Scenes of Jan Siberechts

The Ford by Jan Sieberechts (1672) Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest
The Ford by Jan Sieberechts (1672)
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

My Daily Art Display today features the 17th century Flemish painter, Jan Siberechts.  I will also look at some of Siberechts works and look how his style of painting changed during his lifetime.  In today’s blog I will concentrate on his rural life paintings and in my next blog I will look at how his painting style changed when he went to England. 

Jan Siberechts was born into a family of artists in Antwerp in January 1627, first training with his father, who was a sculptor.  Little is known of his early life and upbringing except to say that in 1648, at the age of twenty-one, he became a master in the Guild of St Luke in Antwerp and four years later, in 1652, he married.   Siberechts’ early works, up until around 1660, were mainly landscapes which were heavily influenced by the Dutch Italianates.  The Dutch Italianates were a group of seventeenth-century Dutch artists who painted landscapes of Italy.  Many of these painters had travelled to and lived in Italy whilst others who had never made the journey to Italy were simply stimulated by the works of those who did.   Many young Dutch painters made the arduous journey, often by foot, over the Alps to Italy, whereas others travelled by sea. The favourite destination for these intrepid travellers was usually Rome, but some journeyed to Venice, and a few to Genoa. 

Many of these artists would make copious sketches during their sojourn in Italy and in the case of those who crossed the Alps on foot, they would pictorially record their arduous journey through the breathtaking mountain passes and then, once they arrived back home to their studios, they would produce this Italianate art.  Such works of art, which were extremely popular with the Dutch and were in great demand in what was then a booming Dutch art market. These Dutch Italianate painters enthused over the golden light of Mediterranean skies which they encountered in Italy.   The countryside around Rome (campagna) was a constant source of inspiration and featured in many of the works of the Dutch Italianates.   Some of the leading Dutch Italianate painters during the lifetime of Siberechts were artists, such as Nicolaes Berchem, Jan Both, Karel du Jardin, and Jan Weenix.  Because Siberechts’ early works reveal the influence of the Dutch Italianates some art historians believe that he may have made the journey to Italy but there is no firm proof of this assertion.   Many believe Siberechts remained in Antwerp until 1672 at which time he accepted an invitation to travel to England and so it could be that he was simply influenced by the finished works of the Dutch Italianate painters which were offered up for sale in Antwerp.  

Shepherdess by Jan Siberechts (1660's) Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Shepherdess by Jan Siberechts (1660’s)
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Siberechts style changed around 1661 when he became interested in depicting scenes from the Flemish countryside and the rustic life of the peasants.  His initial landscape work with its occasional small figures changed and, in his work now, the figures in his landscape settings were larger and took on a paramount importance. 

Landscape with a Road, a Cart and Figures by Jan Siberechts Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)
Landscape with a Road, a Cart and Figures by Jan Siberechts
Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

Often the countryside scenes depicted in these paintings incorporated country roads which had been partly flooded forming fords and peasant women going about their daily routine, carrying goods, such as hay or vegetables, to or from market, often by horse and cart.  In other paintings we see the women tending to their livestock along a river bank.  

The Wager by Jan Siberechts (1665) Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp
The Wager by Jan Siberechts (1665)
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

In Siberechts’ countryside depictions his female figures were much larger than corresponding figures in most paintings of this genre. The female figures we see in Siberechts’ paintings are not willowy, weak women but strong robust females who were quite able to hold their own against their men-folk when it came to working on the farm.  The presence of water in Siberechts’ scenes gave him the chance to show off his artistic ability of depicting reflections on the water surface and the glittering of the light on moving water.  The inclusion of water into his peasant scenes also gave Siberechts an excuse for showing us a sensual glimpse of bare female thighs as they washed and cooled down their bare legs in the fords or streams.  The colours Siberechts used in these landscape works were often quite similar.  He would utilise whites, reds and yellows for the clothes of the women and these colours would contrast against the various greens he used to depict surrounding plants and vegetation.  Often there would be no background as such to these paintings as the dense foliage in the middle ground obscured our view of any background. 

I like these works.  There is a certain quaintness about them.  As you will see in my next blog the paintings Siberecht did whilst in England couldnt be more different.

The Mancorbo Canal in the Picos de Europa by Carlos de Haes (1876)

The Mancorbo Canal in the Picos de Europe by Carlos de Haes (1876)
The Mancorbo Canal in the Picos de Europe by Carlos de Haes (1876)

My Daily Art Display blog today incorporates the two things I enjoy most in art; landscape paintings and discovering a painter I had, up till now, never heard of.   Today I am featuring the nineteenth century Belgian born Spanish landscape painter Carlos de Haes.

Carlos de Haes was born in Brussels in January 1826.  He was born into a dynasty of merchants and financiers and was the eldest of seven children.  When he was nine years old his family moved to Malaga where he grew up and went to school. His initial artistic training was under the tutelage of Luis de la Cruz y Ríos, the Spanish miniaturist painter, who had once been the court painter of King Ferdinand VII.    In 1850, at the age of twenty-four, he returned to Belgium and studied for five years under the Belgian landscape painter Joseph Quineaux.  It was the influence of Quineaux which drew de Haes into the world of landscape painting and sketching and painting en plein air.  During his five year stay in Brussels he managed to travel to France, Holland and Germany constantly sketching the varied landscapes he came across.  It was also around this time that he became interested in the works of the contemporary Realist artists.    In 1855 after completing his art course he returned to Spain and went to live in Madrid and became a naturalised Spaniard.   In 1856 he put forward a number of his landscape works for exhibition in Madrid’s Exposición Nacional, where they were very well received.   The following year, 1857, at the age of thirty-one, Carlos de Haes won the competition for the chair of landscape painting at theReal Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (Royal Academyof Fine Arts of San Fernando), with his work entitled Royal Palace from the Casa de Campo.  The Academy was an establishment which would half a century later be home to the likes of Dalí and Picasso.   In 1861 de Haes was made Académico de mérito. 

During his tenure at the Academy, de Haes set about putting together a set of regulations for his students governing landscape painting and rules for future landscape competitions.  He was insistent that his students mastered the art of en plein air sketching and painting instead of just producing historical landscapes which they had conjured up in the studio.  This, he believed prevented the true study of nature, and he asserted that the en plein air aspect was of paramount importance when contemplating a landscape work.   Haes encouraged his students to interpret nature directly and by working out in the open he insisted that they understood how the changing light changed how they viewed the vegetation and the terrain.  He did however countenance using the studio to fine tune the painting and make final adjustments.  Haes’ insistence that his students should produce a truthful depiction of the landscape, captured by painting en plein air, points towards his interest in the new Realism form of art, which claimed that artists should represent the world as it was, even if it meant breaking artistic and social conventions.   

During the next ten years Haes spent most of his time painting landscapes which featured the Spanish Pyrenees and the Guadarama mountains in central Spain.  One of his students who accompanied him on his sketching journeys was Aureliano Berruete who would become one of the foremost Spanish painters.

Carlos de Haes became ill in 1890 and died in Madrid in 1898.  He bequeathed his mostly small-format paintings to his pupils, who gave them to Spanish museums, the majority of which are now housed in the Casón del Buen Retiro, part of the Prado Museum in Madrid.

My featured painting today by Carlos de Haes was one which I saw when I recently visited the Prado in Madrid.  It was completed by him in 1876, although the preparatory sketch for the work was dated in situ in 1874.  It was exhibited at that the 1876 National Exhibition in Madrid and was subsequently purchased by the Spanish state.  Carlos de Haes had been travelling with Aureliano Berruete around the wild and rugged Cantabrian rural area of Liébana when they came across this spectacular view.   The oil on canvas painting, measuring 168cms x 123cms is entitled The Mancorbo Canal in the Picos de EuropeThe Picos de Europa is a range of mountains 20 km inland from the northern coast of Spain and this landscape painting by de Haes depicts the awesome and craggy vista of the mountain range which was one of Carlos de Haes’ favourite type of spectacular and breathtaking views.   At the bottom of the painting, although it somewhat difficult to pick them out, there are three cows and their herder.

I stood before this beautiful painting and was awestruck by its beauty and its realistic quality.  So, if you ever make it to the Prado be sure to find this work.

Joaquín Sorolla (part 3)

In my final look at the Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla I want to show you some of his portraiture work which featured his family and finally take a look at the house in which he and his family lived and which would later become a museum in his honour.

Mother by Joaquin Sorolla (1895)
Mother by Joaquin Sorolla (1895)

One of the most moving family portraits by Sorolla was of his wife Clotilde, laying in bed with their new born baby, their youngest child, Elena.  The painting is simply entitled Mother and was completed in 1895.   His wife looks lovingly towards her daughter who is swaddled in a mass of white bedding contrasted by the artist’s yellow/green tonal shading of the bed clothes. 

 

My Family by Joaquín Sorolla (1901)
My Family by Joaquín Sorolla (1901)

In 1901 Sorolla completed a portrait of his family entitled My Family, which somehow reminds us of Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas, where the painter showed in the background a mirror that reflects the upper bodies of the king and queen. They appear to be placed outside the picture space in a position similar to that of the viewer.  In Sorolla’s painting we see his image, palette in hand, in a mirror in the background.  The main figures in the painting were those of his family.  His wife Clotilde stands to the left in a long red dress along with her children.   Elena, the youngest, sits on the chair was five years old at the time. Their nine-year old son Joaquín sits on a stool sketching a picture of his sister whilst their elder daughter, Maria, who would have been eleven when her father completed the work, holds the board which her brother is using to support his sketch.

Maria by Joaquín Sorolla (1900)
Maria by Joaquín Sorolla (1900)

One of Sorolla’s favourite subjects was his eldest child, Maria and over the years he would capture her in many of his portraits.  In 1900 he captures her sitting on a chair dressed in a white tunic with her hands entwined on her lap.  The painting is entitled Maria.  The whiteness of her dress is enhanced by touches of blue.   In the background there is a wall with decorative and colourful tiles 

Maria Sick by Joaquín Sorolla (1907)
Maria Sick by Joaquín Sorolla (1907)

Six years later he completed another two portraits of Maria.  The first, entitled Maria Sick, completed in 1907 depicts his daughter sitting outside, well wrapped up in heavy but warm clothes.  She was recuperating in the mountains outside of Madrid having come down with an illness.   Sorolla himself was supposed to have been in Germany at this time, to be present at the one-man exhibition of his work at Berlin, Dusseldorf and Cologne organised by the Berlin gallery owner, Eduard Schulte.  However Sorolla refused to leave his daughter at a time when she was so unwell.

 

Maria painting in El Pardo by Joaquín Sorolla (1907)
Maria painting in El Pardo by Joaquín Sorolla (1907)

That same year, following the recovery from her illness, her father painted another portrait of her, entitled Maria Painting in El Pardo.  The work depicts his daughter seated on a hill top, close to the royal palace, painting en plein air. 

Clotilde Sitting on the Sofa by Joaquín Sorolla (1910)
Clotilde Sitting on the Sofa by Joaquín Sorolla (1910)

However Joaquín Sorolla’s favourite muse was his beloved wife Clotilde whom he had married in 1888.   She featured in a large number of his works.  I particularly like the one he painted in 1910 entitled Clotilde Sitting on the Sofa.  Art historians believe that the painting was influenced by the works of the American painter John Singer Sargent.  His wife leans against the arm of a sofa, dressed in a full length gown.

 

Clotilde in Evening Dress by Joaquín Sorolla (1910)
Clotilde in Evening Dress by Joaquín Sorolla (1910)

Another beautiful painting of his lovely wife was completed that same year entitled Clotilde in Evening Dress and from it, it is plain to see that Sorolla had married a beautiful and enchanting person.  We see her sitting upright in a plush, well upholstered red chair, dressed in a black evening dress with a blue flower tucked behind her ear.  She is the personification of a Spanish lady.

Sorolla had a one-man exhibition in the Grafton Galleries, London in 1908 and it is whilst in London that he met Archer Milton Huntington, who was the son of Arabella Huntington and the stepson of the American railroad tycoon and industrialist Collis Huntington.   Archer Huntington was a lover of the arts and the founder of the Hispanic Society of America which was based in New York.  The Hispanic Society of America was, and still is, a museum and reference library for the study of the arts and cultures of Spain and Portugal as well as those of Latin America.  Huntington arranges for Sorolla to have a major one-man exhibition at the Society in 1909 and it proved to be a resounding success so much so that the exhibition travelled to many American cities.  Huntington then commissioned Sorolla to paint 14 large scale mural paintings, oil on canvas, depicting the peoples and regions of Spain.  On receiving Huntington’s commission in 1911, Sorolla spent the next eight years travelling  throughout the regions of Spain making hundreds of preparatory sketches before completing what was to become known as Vision of Spain.   Sorolla was clear in his mind what Huntington expected and how he would achieve it, for he said:

“…I want to truthfully capture, clearly and without symbolism or literature, the psychology of the region.   Loyal to the truth of my school I seek to give a representative view of Spain, searching not for philosophies but for the picturesque aspects of the region…”

The fourteen murals were installed on December 1922 in the newly renovated western extension to the Hispanic Society’s Main Building, which is now known as the Sorolla Room. They were not officially inaugurated until January 1926. 

Panels from “Vision of Spain,” Joaquín Sorolla’s panoramic mural, during reinstallation at the Hispanic Society of America in New York City.
Panels from “Vision of Spain,” Joaquín Sorolla’s panoramic mural, during reinstallation at the Hispanic Society of America in New York City.

The Hispanic Society building had problems with their roof and it got so bad that in 2007 the museum had a full make-over and the picture above shows the re-installation of the fourteen paintings.

His eight years on this project was at the expense and detriment of his other work and sadly nearing the end of this project his health began to deteriorate and in June 1920 he suffered a stroke which ended his painting career.  One can only imagine how devastated Sorolla must have been not being able to paint.   Three years later in August 2010 Sorolla died in Cercedilla, a small town in the Sierra de Guadarrama, north-west of Madrid.  His body was taken and buried in the town of his birth, Valencia.

Room inside Sorolla Museum
Room inside Sorolla Museum

I cannot end this trilogy of blogs about Joaquín Sorolla without mentioning the Sorolla Museum which was the artist’s home from 1911. 

Room inside Sorolla Museum
Room inside Sorolla Museum

It is a five minute walk from the Ruben Dario Metro station and I do urge you to visit it if you are in Madrid.  You will not be disappointed. 

Museum entrance
Museum entrance

There are so many of the artist’s beautiful paintings on show and the gardens are a delight.

Museum Gardens
Museum Gardens

Joaquín Sorolla (part 2)

Portrait of Joaquín Sorolla by José Jiménez Aranda (1901)
Portrait of Joaquín Sorolla by José Jiménez Aranda (1901)

By 1885, Joaquín Sorolla had settled down to life in Rome but during that year he also spent the spring and summer in Paris.  At this time in the French capital, the Impressionists were in the ascendancy after they and their art had been criticised and they had had to survive an initial period of ridicule, commercial failure and outright denunciation.    However, the Impressionists had now managed to establish their status some eleven years after they held their first Impressionist exhibition at Nadar’s studios and whilst Sorolla was in Paris he saw much of thire work but it was not the Impressionist painters who would influence him.   Whilst in the French capital he visited the retrospective exhibitions of two non-Impressionist painters, the French Naturalist painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage, who had died the previous year, and Adolf von Menzel the German painter who, along with Caspar Davisd Friedrich, was considered one of the two most prominent German artists of the 19th century and was also the most successful artist of his era in Germany.

Sorolla returned to his home town of Valencia on two occasions during the late 1880’s and on the second visit in 1888 he proposed to and married Clotilde Garcia del Castillo the daughter of his mentor, the photographer Antonio Garcia.  Joaquín and Clotilda had first met in 1879 when he had started work in her father’s workshop.   Joaquín finally returned from Italy and in 1890 the couple settled in Madrid.   Sorolla style of painting became more individualistic with him tending towards social realism works. 

Another Marguerite by Joaquín Sorolla (1892)
Another Margarita by Joaquín Sorolla (1892)

For a good example of a social realism work by Sorolla one only has to look at his beautifully executed painting entitled Another Margarita which he completed in 1892.  He exhibited the work at the Madrid National Exhibition that year and was awarded a first-class medal.  This was also Sorolla first major painting to be exhibited in America and it was awarded the first prize at the Chicago International Exhibition, where it was acquired and subsequently donated to the Washington University Museum in St Louis.    The story behind the depiction is of a woman who has been arrested for suffocating her small son and Sorolla actually witnessed the woman being transported to jail.  There is an air of gloom about the manacled woman as she sits slumped on the wooden bench of the train carriage being watched by her two guards who sit behind her.  In contrast to the dark and depressing depiction of the three individuals, the carriage itself is lit up by the warm light which streams through the windows at the rear of the compartment and which bathes the entire space.

The Return of the Catch by Joaquin Sorolla (1894)
The Return of the Catch by Joaquin Sorolla (1894)

His realist art also embraced what the Spanish termed costumbrismo, which was the pictorial interpretation of local everyday life, mannerisms, and customs.   This kind of art depicted particular times and places, rather than of humanity in an abstract form.   In many instances costumbrismo was often satirical and often moralizing, but it was careful not to offer or even imply any particular analysis of the society it depicted, unlike proper realism art.  In less satirical works costumbrismo took on a romantic folklore flavour.  A fine example of this type of work was a painting entitled The Return of the Catch which Sorolla completed in 1894 and which received critical acclaim when it was shown at the 1895 Paris Salon.   It was subsequently acquired by the Musée du Luxembourg.  He painted a number of similar pictures depicting Valencian fisherman at work bathed in the dazzling Mediterranean light such as his 1894 painting entitled Return from Fishing and his 1903 painting, Afternoon Sun.

Sad Inheritance by Joaquín Sorolla (1899)
Sad Inheritance by Joaquín Sorolla (1899)

By 1895 Joaquín and Clotilda had three children.  Their daughter Maria was born in 1890, their son Joaquín in 1892 and their youngest child Elena in 1895.  In 1899 Sorolla painted what was to become his most famous and most moving picture.  It was entitled Sad Inheritance and I talked about this work in My Daily Art Display of Jan 31st 2011.  It is a poignant work featuring a monk and a group of children, crippled by polio, who are seen bathing in the sea at Valencia.   Sorolla received his greatest official recognition for this work of art, the Grand Prix and a medal of honour at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, and a year later he received the medal of honour at the National Exhibition in Madrid in 1901.

In my third and final blog about Joaquín Sorolla I will feature some of his family portraits, look at the Sorolla Museum in Madrid and conclude the life story of this wonderful Spanish artist.

Joaquín Sorolla (part 1)

Self Portrait by Joaquín Sorolla (1909)
Self Portrait by Joaquín Sorolla (1909)

I have said on a number of occasions that when one is in a large city which has one or maybe two famous large art museums, and when one is time-limited, one should search around and look for a smaller gallery which may have hidden treasures to offer.  The art on display in smaller museums can be taken in on one visit and there is no feeling of having to rush from room to room, constantly looking at ones watch to try and see as much as one can and ultimately seeing very little.  Madrid is famous for its three large art museums the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Queen Sophie but once again thanks to my daughter, who was my travelling companion on this trip, I discovered a pure gem of a museum – The Sorolla, which was just a few stops on the Metro from the city centre.  In my blogs I want to offer you a taste of what you would get if you visit the museum dedicated to one of Spain’s best loved artists, show you some of the Spanish painters work and look at his life story.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida was born into a humble household in Valencia in February 1863.  His parents were Joaquín Sorolla Gascón and Concepción Bastida who were retailers.  Joaquín and his younger sister Concha were orphaned in 1865 when both their parents died from the cholera epidemic which had swept through and ravaged the Spanish city.  Joaquín and Concha went to live with their maternal aunt, Isabel Bastida and her husband José Piqueres, a locksmith by trade.  Joaquín’s early schooling was not a success with the young boy being inattentive during lessons and was happy to doodle and draw in his exercise books to pass the time away.  His lack of progress at the school came to the attention of his uncle who withdrew him and took him on as an apprentice at his workshop.  However, owing to his love of drawing, when Joaquín was fourteen years old, his uncle arranged for him to attend drawing classes in the evening at the city’s Escuelade Artesanos where his artistic ability astounded his teachers, including the sculptor Cayetano Capuz.   The following year, 1878, he enrolled on a three-year course at Valencia’s prestigious Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Carlos.  It was whilst attending the art school that he met and became friends with a fellow student, Juan Antonio Perez.  He was soon introduced to Juan’s family.  Juan’s father, Antonio Garcia Perez was a photographer and was very impressed with Sorolla’s art work, so much so that he gave him a job at his photography studio as an illuminator.  This opportunity allowed Sorolla to leave his uncle’s workshop and concentrate on his artwork and discover the world of photography.  He learnt all about the framing of a subject and the manipulation of light which would prove a boon to him when he started to paint seaside and beach scenes.   This “new world” of photography fascinated many artists of the time and the likes of the French pair of Impressionists, Degas and Caillebotte were accomplished amateur photographers.

The Shout of the Palleter by Joaquín Sorolla (1881)
The Shout of the Palleter by Joaquín Sorolla (1881)

 Joaquín won many awards whilst studying at Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Carlos and at the end of his time there, and buoyed by his success, he sent off three seascapes to the Madrid National Exhibition.   He travelled to Madrid on a couple of occasions and visited the Prado where he painted copies of the great Masters.   In 1884, in the hope of attaining a monetary scholarship from the Valencia Provincial Council, he submitted a number of paintings to them, one of which was entitled The Shout of the Palleter, which was a historical painting recording the event in Valencia when one of its inhabitants Vincent Doménech in 1808, incensed by the French occupation of his country stood in the square urging people to rebel against the French tyranny.  He uttered his famous words:

“…Jo, Vicent Doménech, un pobre palleter, li declare la guerra a Napoleó. ¡Vixca Ferran sèptim! ¡Muiguen els traïdors!…”

(I, Vincent Doménech, a poor and simple worker, declare war against Napoleon.  Long live Ferdinand.  Death to the traitors.)

Sorolla painted the picture in the bullring of Valencia which he transformed into a huge studio and which was bathed in brilliant sunlight.  The stage-managed scene was a triumph and the Valencia Provincial Council awarded him a three-year scholarship to study art at the Spanish Academy in Rome. 

Father Jofré Protecting a Madman by JoachínSorolla (1887)
Father Jofré Protecting a Madman by JoachínSorolla (1887)

One of the conditions attached to the scholarship was that he regularly sent back work to the Council to prove that he was making good use of his time.   One of the paintings he duly sent back to Valencia was his 1887 work entitled Father Jofré Protecting a Madman.  This historical painting was based on the story of Father Joan-Gilabert Jofré, a friar of the Valencian Mercedarian Order, who, on  February 24, 1409, was on his way from the convent of the Plaza de la Merced to the Cathedral of Valencia.   On his way there he passed along the street of Martín Mengod,  the ancient street of the silver workers, next to the church of Santa Catalina.  On entering the street he was greeted with a great commotion.   Before him, he saw a group of children who were hitting and making fun of a mentally ill man who lay on the ground before them.   In those days it was believed by many that somebody who was mentally ill was possessed by the devil.  Father Jofré immediately berated the children and took the helpless man with him to the convent of the Order of Mercy, where he was given shelter and cure for his wounds.  Father Jofré would go on to found the world’s first lunatic asylum.

After his three year scholarship came to an end, Joaquín Sorolla continued to live in Rome and for a time in Assisi but on two occasions between 1885 and 1889 he returns to his home city of Valencia.

 

…….to be continued.