JOAQUIN SOROLLA Y BASTIDA
(Valencia 1863 – 1923 Madrid)
The Old Man of Castille
Signed and dated lower right: J. Sorolla B 1907
Oil on canvas, 209 x 105 cm
Fine Arts Academy, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo (acquired from the 1909 New York Exhibition through the Elizabeth G. Gates Fund; deaccessioned and sold: Parke-Bernet, New York, 14 October 1943, lot 63); Private collection, Madrid; Sale, Sotheby’s, London, 10 December 2014, lot 51.
London, Grafton Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings by Señor Sorolla y Bastida, 1908, illustrated in the catalogued (as The Glass of Wine)
New York, The Hispanic Society of America; Buffalo, Fine Arts Academy; Boston, Copley Society of Art: Paintings by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida Exhibited by the Hispanic Society of America, 1909, no. 89 (New York); no. 61 (Boston & Buffalo; illustrated in the Buffalo catalogue)
Toronto, Canadian National Exhibition, 1922
Dallas, The Texas Fine Art Association, 1923
Toledo, The Toledo Museum of Art, 1928
Dayton, The Dayton Art Institute, 1930
Aureliano de Beruete, Camille Mauclair, Henri Rochefort, Leonard Williams, Elizabeth Cary, J.G. Huneker, C. Brinton and W.E.B. Sterkweather, Eight Essays on Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, New York, 1909, vol. I, p. 295, no. 89, illustrated (as Viejo castellano)
Christian Brinton, 'Two Great Spanish Painters: Sorolla and Zuloaga', in The Century Magazine, May 1909, p. 31, illustrated (as The Old Castilian)
Thomas R. Ibarra, 'The American Success of a Great Spanish Painter', New York, 1909, p. II562, illustrated (as An Old Castilian)
'In Memoriam: Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida', in Academy Notes, Buffalo, vol. XVIII, no. 2, July-December 1923
Bernardino de Pantorba, La vida y obra de Joaquín Sorolla, Madrid, 1970, p. 190, no. 1622, catalogued (as Viejo castellano sirviéndose vino)
Joaquín Sorolla, 1863-1923, exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2009, p. 381, fig. 271, illustrated
Sorolla and America, exh. cat., Meadows Museum, Dallas & The San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, 2013-14, p. 302, no. 32, catalogued & illustrated
To be included in Blanca Pons Sorolla forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist (BPS 1880)
The Old Man of Castille is one of a group of major life-sized figural compositions that Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida painted in 1907, about half of which were royal portraits and the remainder depictions of family likenesses and local characters. The series was painted in El Pardo and subsequently in Segovia, while the artist’s daughter, Maria, was convalescing from tuberculosis. The following year Sorolla was introduced to Archer Milton Huntington, founder of The Hispanic Society of America, who made him a member of his institution and invited him to exhibit there in 1909. The grand exhibition comprised 356 paintings, 195 of which were sold, including the present work. The subject of our painting is a humble and tattered old man pouring a glass of wine with a bandaged hand. Sorolla’s ethnographic observation of local life in this everyday scene anticipates the series of celebrated murals, Visions of Spain, that he would paint for the Hispanic Society just four years later.
Our painting displays Sorolla’s signature vigor of execution and deft handling of light. The bulky volume of the figure is formed by thickly and rapidly applied paint in the artist’s confidant bravura style. The subject immediately recalls the Waterseller (fig. 1) by Velázquez, who was of considerable influence on Sorolla. The Baroque artist bestows dignity on the figure of the common man who appears to have peddled his trade for many years. Like our Old Man from Castille the water carrier is shown in three-quarters view and wearing a dark cloak. Nearly three centuries later we here witness Sorolla inspired by the immediacy and vivid naturalism of his great Spanish predecessor.
The monumental scale of our single-figure painting further recalls the pendants of Menippus and Aesop (fig. 2 & 3) that Velazquez painted to decorate one of the chambers in the Torre de la Parada. The ancient Greeks were painted with a flowing application of paint that appears quite sketchy in certain passages, though nowhere near the looseness of Sorolla’s impressionistic brushwork. Our figure, like the similarly cloaked and hatted Menippus, is beggarly in appearance but maintains a sense of dignity with the mere gravity of his lifelike presence. Sorolla includes a stub of a cigarette in the crook of the old man’s mouth, contorting his worn, friendly face. The scene is candid, with strong shadows and swaths of light aiding the sense of spontaneity. With Old Man of Castille Sorolla manages to capture the present ordinary moment while connecting the viewer to Spain’s great artistic past.
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida began his artistic training at fifteen at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Valencia, where he was influenced by the previous generation of Valencian painters, especially Francisco Domingo y Marqués who was responsible for drawing his attention to 17th century Spanish Realism. Emilio Sala Francés and Ignacio Pinazo Camarlech, likewise, made an impact on the young artist; the work of the latter, in particular, prompted Sorolla to start painting outdoors. In 1881 he made his first trip to Madrid where he spent time studying the Prado’s collection of Old Masters, copying works by Velázquez and Ribera. Four years later he left Spain for Rome, where he was awarded a study grant. It was during his stay in Italy that Sorolla began to approach light as his primary concern in painting and honed a distinct ability to apply it in a wide range of contexts to startling effects. Sorolla, however, was not terribly impressed with the art being executed in Rome at that time and made an extended trip to Paris where he enthusiastically encountered modern painting for the first time. Influenced by many styles and masters, Sorolla skillfully combined contemporary with traditional approaches.
When he arrived back in Madrid in 1889, he returned more confident, more steady, and with great prospects. His paintings were in high demand in Spain and his international reputation grew quickly. Sorolla’s success at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1901 opened doors to salons and exhibitions as far away as Chicago. These expositions brought him into direct contact with Northern Impressionist painting, which uniquely shaped the arc of Sorolla’s stylistic development. He spent his summers with his family at Biarritz where he established himself as a master of the beach scene. He would often paint large-scale canvases directly on the beach, delighting in the dappled effects of light on the sand and water. An epic commission in 1911 from the Hispanic Society of America in New York would consume the later years of his life. Sorolla worked on the series of large-scale decorative scenes, entitled Visions of Spain, from 1912 to 1919. The fourteen canvases represented the life and culture of various regions of Spain, all but one painted on location en plein air. The work exhausted him. In the year following the completion of his most ambitious cycle of paintings, Sorolla suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed for the remaining three years of his life. His widow left a large collection of his paintings to the people of Spain. The collection is now housed in the Museo Sorolla, in the artist's house in Madrid.