Thursday, 27 June 2019

Museo Sorolla in Madrid

I wasn't aware of Joaquin Sorolla until I saw the great exhibition of his work at the National Gallery earlier this year so when in Madrid last week I took the opportunity to visit his house that is now Museo Sorolla. It's about a 45 minutes walk north of the Prado, out in a residential district but with the traffic of a capital city all around.

Walk through the gate in the high brick wall and you find yourself in a delightful small garden with a fountain in the middle. Follow the signs to the right into another small garden with another fountain, statues, trees, shrubs and flowers and the dappled sunlight of Madrid. Walk past a little seating area and into the shop to buy a ticket for €3 and then walk out into the garden again to go up some lovely tiled steps and into the house.

The house is decorated and furnished as it was in Sorolla's day and you're instantly taken back 100 years in the quiet of the house, with it's high ceilings and relief from the heat and sun outside. Spacious corridors and rooms with ornate vases and statues on the furniture, large windows and with Sorolla's paintings on the walls. Some rooms are roped off so you only look at them from the doorway whereas you can walk into others to find the walls covered in paintings, usually quite high up on the walls above the tables and cupboards that belong in those rooms.

As I've come to expect from the National Gallery exhibition, many of the paintings are of Sorolla's wife and children, often outdoors but also some more formal portrait paintings. The walls were crammed with paintings but I really liked this one of his wife on the beach with lots of white in the parasol and dress for Corolla to play with the light and create highlights where he wanted on the dress and in the sea. It can't have been comfortable being dressed like that in a Spanish summer - women were so brave back then.

The walls are packed with paintings, as you can see above, with this painting of his daughter (Emelia, I think, the youngest daughter).

A painting that really caught my attention was this one called simply 'Fisherwomen'. It's quite large and dominates the second room along with another portrait of Sorolla's wife. It's easy to imagine these women waiting on the shore for their men to arrive with boats (hopefully) laden with fish that they will have to transport to market or to store, possibly to gut and prepare. They get the dirty work but they look hardy and ready for it.

It's not just the play of light or painting outdoors that made a painter an 'impressionist', it was also the choice of subject matter. The French Impressionists chose everyday scenes to paint, portraits of their friends, evenings out, workers and railways, factories and farmers. Sorolla's choice of subject matter is often interesting for it's own sake.

Upstairs on the next floor is a series of rooms that hold 223 small paintings on the walls that Sorolla did as sketches or notebook works to remind him of subject matter or colour combinations that he could use in larger works.

These paintings are all relatively small, individually framed in a variety of styles and hung together. Some were postcard sized and some were A4 sized - I don't think any were larger than A4 - and were of all sorts of subjects. Some were landscapes, some were of boats on dappled water, some flowers and gardens, swimmers, crowds... you name it, it was in there somewhere. Apparently he used them as reference pieces for his other paintings, seeing how colours worker together, clashed or complimented.

I was very impressed with some of these paintings, some clearly just dashed off and others were really more like careful studies, but all so small. Some are, apparently, painted on radom bits of cardboard, any material he found could be turned into a painting. I think all were painted in oils but I wonder what size brushes he used for these?

After seeing these lovely sketches you exit down what I assume were the servants' staircase and exit through some other rooms that are furnished as they would have been, with more Sorolla paintings on the walls.

I particularly liked this painting of his front garden and the fountain near the gate through the brick wall. Do you recognise it? It's one of my photos above. It's more overgrown in this painting but it's the same garden. He must've loved living here, near the centre of the city but far enough away to have some privacy and solitude.

While I loved seeing all these new paintings by Sorolla, something I really enjoyed was simply being in his beautiful house. It felt comfortable and homely, somewhere his children probably felt good in growing up. It was lovely with the high ceilings and open rooms, windows on most walls and the lovely furnishings. He was clearly well off but he produced enough paintings to deserve it.

The way out of the museum is through what was probably the front door, so you have to double back to get to the shop to buy the obligatory postcards (I also bought a book about his works in English). The gardens are beautifully maintained and, in the covered seating area is a statue of Sorolla, watching people come and go through his gardens and his house. He's there with his palette as if he's about to paint his garden again. If I had that garden then I'd certainly be painting it as well.

It was only when I unpacked when I got home and was examining all the tickets and random bits of paper you collect on a trip away that I looked at the back of the entrance ticket. It's a painting of his wife - yet another painting, and one that wasn't on display in the house (that I noticed). How fitting and how he must've loved her to have painted her again and again over so many years. She was always beautiful in his eyes. Their great grandchildren will be my age - I wonder what they think of this museum dedicated to their family and heritage? I loved it and will certainly go back again.

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