Shade, illumination, and relaxation: Sorolla’s Seascapes at the National Gallery

Gráinne Quigley reviews a pop-up talk about the gallery’s latest exhibition, Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light

On Friday, the National Gallery of Ireland held a pop-up talk relating to Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light, their newest exhibition. Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light was organised by the gallery in collaboration with curators from the National Gallery London and Museo Sorolla. 50 paintings by the Spanish impressionist are taking up residence in the gallery until November 3 – and every one is a must-see for art aficionados. 

The exhibition boasts pieces from throughout Joaquín Sorolla’s career, and thus the evolving palette, thematic concerns, and techniques of Sorolla are all apparent if you examine the paintings chronologically. Leading the pop-up talk was Eimear Murphy, who talked to the audience in an informative way that allowed for a greater understanding of Sorolla and his work. For example, Murphy discussed how the famed Sorolla painting Bad Inheritance had such a profoundly negative effect on Sorolla’s mood that the artist declared he would never again paint such depressing subjects. This is unsurprising, as the tragic painting features orphaned boys who are suffering from various degrees of physical disability.

Murphy also pointed out the change which occurred in Sorolla’s choice of subject when he began earning a comfortable living from his work. It is at this point in his career that the artist produced his famous collection of breezy and animated beach scenes, featuring leisurely subjects and a masterful command of light and shade. By then, the artist had the means to bring his young family on holidays and appears to have been inspired by the therapeutic lifestyle of the seaside. 

Sorolla’s use of light is particularly striking. Using a variety of types of brushstrokes, the artist renders light differently again and again, whether it is the dappling of sunshine on a boat sail, the bright side of a cliff, or the way light strikes a wave as it folds over its crest. Sorolla’s favourite painting, The Pink Robe, After The Bath, is a perfect example of his tender and creative use of light. It sees two lovers enjoying an intimate moment as they stand in the shade. They are speckled with spots and squares of light, adding a three-dimensional feel as well as an air of romance. 

Sorolla covered many subjects in his work – from beaches, gardens, and landscapes to human relationships and family portraits. The unifying aspect of these works is his exquisite and sensitive use of shade and illumination to bring his scenes to life. This exhibition will leave you feeling at ease. If you have an hour to spare, it’s an excellent place to rest for a minute and collect your thoughts.

Gráinne Quigley

Gráinne Quigley is the current Societies Editor of Trinity News.