Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida is considered one of the most successful painters to delve into Modern art in Spain during the turn of the century. Sorolla was a prime example of an artist with an Academic background but who was trying to steer away from dogmatic methods and techniques. There are few examples in Spanish art of someone whose brushstrokes were so elegant, simple, and yet retained a realistic effect. Today, Sorolla's landscapes, portraits, and other paintings for sale amount to surprising values at auction houses.
Joaquin and his younger sister, Concha, were born in 1863 and 1864, natural from Valencia, Spain. Only one year after Concha was born, the siblings became orphans of both parents due to illness - most possibly cholera. The two youngsters were taken in custody of their maternal uncle and aunt. While their parents had a moderate income working as frame makers, his uncle was a locksmith and considerably poorer.
There is little information about Joaquin Sorolla's early education, and a lot of it is contradictory. From what it seems, he wasn't committed to studying in class and distracted himself by drawing. Noticing this, his uncle took young Joaquin as a locksmith apprentice during the day and enrolled him in drawing lessons at the Escuela de Artesanos.
At the time, the artist was only nine years old. His first master was the sculptor Cayetano Capuz. Under his tutelage, Sorolla y Bastida started to participate and win at local art contests. Despite Sorolla never becoming an artisan, he spoke fondly of his time as a locksmith apprentice and had a taste for it, seeing it as an analogous activity to art.
When the artist turned fifteen, he left the Escuela de Artesanos and entered the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Carlos. Shortly after entering the institution, he participated in some student events and won prizes for his drawings. Despite the early inclination that he had for artist practice, the painter later on in his life praised the emphasis on realism and color construction of teachers such as Gonzalo Salvá and the importance of drawing defended by Antonio Cortina Farinós, another teacher. These traits were fundamental for his mature pieces.
During this period, Joaquin Sorolla was an intimate friend of Juan Antonio Garcia. Juan was the son of famed photographer Antonio Garcia, who was one of the most active photographers of Valencia and a mentor-like figure for the young artist. The photographer and painter became so intimate that eventually, Antonio hired him as an assistant and invited him to live in his house.
Confident with his work and gaining some local recognition, the Spanish painter participated in his first national exhibition with three seascapes, which received no criticism or acclaim. Since Bastida had to travel for the event, he set for Madrid. There he studied the works of the Old Masters at the Museo del Prado for the first time. The artworks of Goya, Ribera, and Diego Velazquez, in particular, all leave a lasting impression on him. In the next couple of years, the painter continued visiting the capital.
In 1884 the painter participated again in Spain's National exhibition. At the time, Sorolla was still invested in historical painting, which probably favored the jury's judgment. The Spanish artist received a silver medal for his participation, becoming the first national recognition earned by Sorolla. During the same year, he applied for a grant from a Valencia association in Rome. The final test was related to a historical subject, and the painter once again shined with creativity and expression.
In 1885, Bastida received the grant of 3.000 pesetas for the year. He then moved to Rome, already engaged with Clotilde Garcia del Castillo, Antonio's daughter that he met while living at the family's house. At the Royal Spanish Academy, the artist began to study under Emilio Sala's tutelage, who was specialized in nude drawing and anatomy studies.
After three years in Rome, he traveled to Paris by Pedro Gil Moreno's invitation, who he met in the Italian capital. While he was in Paris, he visited many exhibitions and came in contact with Modern painting for the first time. The young artist was deeply influenced by exhibitions of artists like Adolph von Menzel and Jules Bastien-Lepage.
It's worth noting that Bastida didn't make any commentary on Impressionist art, which was exhibiting at the exact time in the city, meaning that he either didn't attend the show or wasn't particularly fascinated by it. Despite the shared worry with lighting, brushstroke, and nature, he never showed any enthusiasm for Impressionist artists.
In 1886 he traveled throughout Italy, going to Pisa, Napoli, Florence, and Venice. He created small landscapes called vistas, which sold well at the time. The painter returned to Rome and next year participated at the National Show of Spain. By 1887, Sorolla settled at Assisi, where he lived until the end of his grant.
In 1879, Bastida met the enchanting Clotilde Garcia del Castillo while he worked in her father's studio. They fell in love and married in 1888 after returning to Valencia, and moved to Madrid two years later. Castillo was the artist's muse, and they had a total of three children together.
By the time Bastida and his family moved to Madrid, he was focused on producing paintings to display in art exhibits and salons across the world, including Munich, Berlin, Chicago, Paris, Madrid, and Venice. The painter focused on mythological, historical, and social subjects, working on large canvases and delving into Orientalism - a theme many contemporary artists would also explore.
Bastida produced many masterpieces throughout his career and was deeply praised by the public and critics. In 1892, he won the gold medal for his painting Another Marguerite at the National Exhibition in Madrid. The Chicago International Exhibition acquired the same picture and granted it with first prize, and the artwork was then donated to the Washington University Museum.
Two years later, he painted the oil on canvas Return from Fishing, which shows the artist's work beginning to mature. The Musée du Luxembourg purchased this piece after it was exhibited in the Paris Salon. Other notable paintings worth mentioning are; A Research and Portrait of Dr. Simarro at the Microscope - both artworks were prized pieces and shown in Madrid at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts.
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida died in 1923, at 60 years old, in Madrid, Spain. Clotilde, his widow, donated many artworks to the Spanish people. This collection of works eventually created the museum known as Museo Sorolla - in the artist's home.
Bastida became an illustrious painter and was even nominated as a Knight at the prestigious Legion of Honour after showing his work at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1900. Bastida's artworks will forever be known as beautiful and luminous portrayals of landscape painting, portraits, and historical themes, as this Academic Spanish painter mastered the Modern world of art.