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Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum Presents Sargent/Sorolla
John Singer Sargent, Madame Gautreau drinking a Toast, Oil on canvas, 32 x 41 cm. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.


MADRID, SPAIN.- Sargent/Sorolla, an exhibition jointly organised by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Fundación Caja Madrid and the Ministry of Culture, just opened. It brings together a total of 128 works and offers a parallel presentation of the careers of two painters: John Singer Sargent and Joaquín Sorolla. Sargent and Sorolla were working at the same time but were notably different with regard to birth, education and personality. Shared features between the two included mutual knowledge and admiration for each other’s work but above all various important aspects of their painting, as the present exhibition aims to reveal. The exhibition will be simultaneously shown in the temporary exhibition rooms of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and those of Fundación Caja Madrid. It then moves to France, and from 12 February until 13 May 2007 it can be seen at the Petit Palais – Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de París.

With some small variations in the selection of works to be shown in Madrid and Paris, the paintings on display have been loaned from more than 50 different sources, both private collections and museums world-wide. Particularly substantial loans have been made by the Museo Sorolla, Madrid, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Hispanic Society of America, New York, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Tate, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery, London and the Musée d’Orsay and the Petit Palais, Paris.
Two Parallel Careers

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) and Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) worked at a period when Impressionism achieved universal fame and recognition. Despite always remaining apart from this movement, both artists have on occasions been considered Impressionists. Among other reasons this is due to a shared characteristic: their interest in the effects of light and colour. Both aimed to produce a modern type of painting, but a highly individual one that took its starting-point as the naturalist tradition. It was this naturalist creed that led to their attraction to Velázquez, in common with a number of the Impressionists, focused on the use of colour and light as expressive devices inherent to painting and also on a virtuoso handling of the brush.

The principal difference between these two solitary artists and Impressionism or other avant-garde movements – they were in fact contemporaries of the Post-impressionist generation – is once again, another shared point: the commercial and social success that both enjoyed. In addition to encouraging their natural tendency towards the virtuoso, their quest for success led Sargent and Sorolla towards three types of subject-matter considered “traditional” or “classical” and thus not popular with avant-garde artists: genre painting, the portrait and decorative commissions.

Their endeavours in the field of decorative painting have tended to be forgotten in more recent times and both artists suffered considerably from their personal and artistic failure regarding these schemes. Nonetheless, the major decorative cycles that they produced for important public institutions, undertaken by both men with enormous enthusiasm, deserve to be re-examined, and a large part of the exhibition is devoted to them.

In the case of Sargent, the portrait was the genre that brought him most success among his contemporaries. Viewed in his day as a new Lawrence or a modern Van Dyck, Sargent can be seen in retrospect as the last great representative of the classical portrait tradition. The decline in social conventions within this genre at the end of the 19th century was one of the reasons for Sargent’s negative reception in modern art circles. However, as Picasso and Matisse’s work reveals, the portrait survived modern art and from a contemporary viewpoint Sargent and Sorolla’s portraits can now be appreciated as extremely interesting. A similar situation arose with genre painting, Sorolla’s favourite field. He adopted new approaches and made various transformations within the genre, imbuing some works with a rigorous realism and others with a lyricism that has the immediacy of a painted diary.

Having achieved success relatively early, both Sargent and Sorolla had the resources and abilities to devote themselves to the most modern of artistic endeavours: painting for themselves. The linear model of art history that historians of modern art tended to impose on the art of the 20th century has obscured this phase in their careers, resulting in a lack of consideration comparable to the situation of late Impressionism in its day. The present exhibition will aim to demonstrate that, as with Monet, it was in the last twelve or fifteen years of their lives that Sargent and Sorolla’s work reached a peak of passion and pictorial excellence which for which it should ultimately be remembered.

The layout of the exhibition aims to reveal all these parallels and affinities between the two artists. It devotes alternating rooms to the two artists, with two points at which their work is shown together: group and formal portraits, and late figure paintings.





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October 8, 2006

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