The most popular subject of Joaquín Sorolla’s painting is beach scenes. And based on them, and with the desire to join the exhibitions that commemorate the centenary of the painter’s death, the Mapfre Foundation opens a small exhibition at its Madrid headquarters on Paseo de Recoletos, The Summers of Sorolla, which nevertheless contains works of enormous beauty such as Pescadoras Valencianas or Nadadora, Jávea, and small pieces, what he called notes of color, often completely on the verge of abstraction, such as San Sebastián.

Curated by Casilda Ybarra, it brings together 15 medium and large format paintings, some important in his international consecration as an artist, and 25 color notes that cover the beach scenes that he painted and that were fundamental in the consecration of his international career as an artist. And, through them, “explore important themes in his life and career” and “how the gaze towards the sea evolved throughout the 19th century, how it began to be seen as a work space and therefore of dignity for the people, how it is then seen as a place to go in search of cure for illnesses and which, finally, results in a space for leisure in the summer.

The summer, explains the curator, “is when you can dedicate yourself more diligently to creating these scenes.” “He is very aware that they are the ones that bring him the most success in his international exhibitions. In the exhibition we see how in the first part of his career, far from resting, he dedicated his summers to working intensely and many of these campaigns are related to his international exhibitions, such as in Jávea in 1905 when he prepared his landing in Paris a year later, or in Valencia in 1908, 1909 and 1910, closely related to his exhibitions in the US”, he continues.

“Curiously, when he is at the peak of his success and preparing Huntington’s immense commission for the Vision of Spain for the Hispanic Society and can rest some of the time from the commission, he freely chooses to dedicate himself to the beach scenes that provide him with that rest that he needs so much at that moment,” explains Ybarra.

And he emphasizes that they have chosen works representative of different summers so that they would tell that whole story, a story of 25 years between 1894 and 1919. “1894 because in that summer in Valencia he prepared works for the Paris Salon of ’95, and there he created La return from fishing, a very successful work that the French State immediately bought,” explains the curator, who says that it is the moment in which Sorolla found his way and decided to paint scenes of daily life. “The enormous success with this work encourages her to gradually include fisherwomen, sailors at work in her compositions, all these scenes that were so popular at the time and that we will see in works from different years,” she points out.

Another fundamental point in this look towards the sea, he says, is that “its therapeutic properties are beginning to be valued, hygienic science is beginning to encourage movement to the sea as a source of healing and an alternative space to those overcrowded cities of the modern era. In Sorolla sees it in a work from the summer of 1899 in Valencia, Sad Inheritance!, in which he represents orphaned children from the San Juan de Dios hospice who go to the sea in search of healing. He made it for the Universal Exhibition in Paris, where he obtained the Grand Prix and here we show one of his most interesting studies”.

In that work, he highlights, “we see the sick children on the seashore but also in the background we can see how the group enjoys that sea bath: it shows the intimate relationship between that search for the therapeutic sea and the birth of the sea as a space.” of leisure and rest”. This is an aspect that stands out in the last part of the exhibition where, on the one hand, there are the Mediterranean summers “bathed in the bright light of their native Valencia, starring the local population, naked boys, girls in light robes, swimmers enjoying the surroundings in full contact with nature, wanting to capture the primitivism that modern society is losing” and on the other hand its representations of the Cantabrian summers.

“They are very different, at that time the birth of the elegant summer vacation was taking place, in Spain the nerve center was San Sebastián, and in the south of France there were Biarritz, Zarauz, places where Sorolla goes when his international consecration is established”. There he takes the opportunity, he says, to make a representation “with a totally different, much softer light, scenes starring especially women from his family dressed elegantly in white who indulge in distinguished leisure, such as walks along the seashore or the entertainment on the beach in a very different way to Mediterranean summers.

Ybarra notes the importance of the 25 color notes or notes that are shown and that Sorolla makes in parallel to the large format: “They are not preparatory studies, they are explorations, he was a constantly active artist and he went with his box of notes capturing what he was developed around him, which in the northern summers was very important because the changing light in that area prevented him from tackling larger works.”

In 1919 Sorolla finished Huntington’s enormous commission, Vision of Spain, and traveled to Mallorca and Ibiza, where he painted Children Searching for Shellfish, which closes the exhibition and, says the curator, summarizes the legacy of what the summer meant to Sorolla.