back to listing

Tammy Ellis’ Sorolla Course

18th August 2019

The Life and Works of Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923)

Sorolla was a Spanish painter, much revered in his native country and admired in Europe and America but little known here. That may have changed this year when The National Gallery held the first exhibition of his work in London since 1908. The Institute was fortunate to have a Sorolla course run by the much respected tutor Tammy Ellis which coincided with the National Gallery show. Those of us who attended gained a real insight into the artist’s background, techniques and the context of his paintings.

We learned that Sorolla was born in Valencia and was orphaned at the age of two when his parents died in a cholera epidemic. He was brought up by an aunt and uncle who recognised his artistic talents and bought him art materials. They later arranged for him to work as a lighting assistant for a local photographer where he was also employed in colour tinting photos. This early work can be seen as an influence on his paintings. During this period he met Clothilde, the photographer’s daughter whom he later married. She was a big influence on his later career, featuring in many of his paintings and, as Tammy explained, more or less becoming his manager, when he later became very successful. Sorolla trained in fine art and by his late teens was exhibiting at the annual Exposicion Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid. He appears to have been a “regular guy”, who was devoted to his wife and three children, and did not have the chaotic lifestyle of some of his contemporaries.

Sorolla enjoyed painting outside and many of his works feature the seaside and gardens, including the one at his home which he designed. Sometimes thought of as an Impressionist, Tammy explained that his techniques differed from those used by the likes of Monet and Pisarro and also showed classical influences of artists such as Verlasquez.

The most striking aspect of Sorolla’s paintings was the way he captured the effect of the fantastic sunlight on the Spanish coast. Hence his description as “the master of light”. At the exhibition, the effect of seeing his works en masse was almost overwhelming, with radiant paintings such as “Strolling Along the Seashore” 1909 and “The Gardens at the Sorolla Family Home” 1920 being highlights. There is also a series of more gritty paintings, dealing with social issues of the time such as the hard conditions in the fishing industry (And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive! 1894).

Sorolla painted constantly even when he was on holiday with his family. Following a stroke in 1920, he was never able to paint again. He died three years later. The recent exhibition appears to have been a great success and will ensure that Sorolla is now better known in this country. I imagine that a visit to the Sorolla Museum, housed in his former home and garden in Madrid, would not disappoint!

Tammy Ellis runs a number of Art History courses, as well as the Sorolla course, at The Guildford Institute. You can browse our full range of Art History courses here.

Joaquín Sorolla: Instantané/Snapshot. Biarritz. 1906. Oil on Canvas. 62 x 93.5 cm. Museo Sorolla, Madrid.