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To the sea of Joaquín Sorolla

Posted August. 11, 2020 07:55,   

Updated August. 11, 2020 07:55


It may not be a great time to talk about taking trips to the sea or having fun at the beach. The new book, “Sorolla on the Seashore” by Joaquín Sorolla, released last week, reminds readers of peaceful days spent by the sea without the threat of rain.

Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) was born in Valencia on the east coast of Spain and spent most of his life drawing people and the landscape at the beach. He would take his canvas and drawing tools out to the beach and drew what he saw there quickly as if he was trying to record the moment.

The paint on his painting is sometimes mixed with sand from the beach. One picture shows him at the beach with a hat on, hurriedly moving his brushes on a canvas fixed with a rope just like laundry hung on a clothesline.

Joaquín Sorolla earned reputation and fame in Madrid in the early 20th century but he fell ill while working on a large piece commissioned in the United states for seven years from 1912. He died after having a stroke and was forgotten by the public until his 2009 retrospective held at the Prado Museum, Spain, ended in a resounding success, drawing renewed attention to him. His works were also exhibited in Munich, Germany and London, the United Kingdom.

This book has more than 60 paintings by Joaquín Sorolla including “Women Walking on the Beach (1909)” that depicts his wife and oldest daughter strolling at the beach, “The Boys on the Beach (1909)” where boys are having fun with their naked bodies reflecting light, and “The Breakwater of San Sebastian (1918)” that illustrates a sea with angry waves.

Is it inappropriate to indulge in paintings that show sunlight sparkling on the sea and a peaceful foreign beach when we are seeing flood damage across the country on top of other social conflicts? When Sorolla drew most prolifically, Spain was deeply depressed by the defeat against the United States in wars that took place in the Philippines and other places. He was probably searching for images of hope that will give him the strength to live on back in his coastal hometown away from Madrid.

Taek Kyoon Sohn sohn@donga.com