Have you ever come across the Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla? I must confess I had never heard of him until I visited Giverny and stumbled across this marvellous exhibition at the Musee des Impressionismes.
In 1906 an exhibition of his work at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris containing no less than 500 of his paintings - critics and the art-loving public alike were astounded at his prodigious output - launched him on the global art stage. This exhibition shows a broad cross section of his work from Paris with some 50 paintings plus preparatory sketches and studies.
Sorolla's rendering of light tends to class him as an impressionist painter. And the way he can conjure the play of sunlight on water does remind you of Monet. But his work encompasses so much more. The virtuoso spontaneity of his brushwork is right up there with Sargent. His portraiture brings to mind Velasquez (whose paintings in the Prado he scrupulously copied as a student). But standing in front of his vast canvases you realise that his style is rather unique. What seems to set them apart is a wonderful freedom of composition and movement combined with an uncanny handling of the effects of light and a boldness with colour. This is most apparent in his paintings of children in the seawater around his home town of Valencia in Spain.
Sorolla painted at great speed, often en plein air, with little advance planning of the composition. He would start with one image and the canvas then developed almost of its own accord. His paintings are thus a race against time, a race to capture the rapidly changing light effects of sunlight, shadow and colour on a summer's day. Look at these canvases up close and there is a whirlwind of dramatic brushwork using bright primary colours, olive greens, mauves, all of the cadmiums. Take a few steps back and the overall effect is startling in its intensity and verisimilitude. Bravura luminosity!
Some of his larger paintings - one or two of which are displayed in the exhibition - measure over 3 metres square. For these studio-based pieces he apparently used a palette the size of a grand piano lid, with brushes 3 foot long to allow him to stand just the right distance away to judge the effect of the paint. The large painting below is simply mesmerising, even with poor quality of my photograph. Look up close: the cloth that is being mended is a few daubs of flake white against an indigo grey. Walk back and it miraculously transforms into a riotous bundle of pure sail. Quite something. Check this guy out online. He is very inspiring.