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Four works by Joaquin Sorolla for sale at Sotheby's London and Sotheby's New York
Playa de Valencia (Valencia Beach), 1910, oil on canvas. Estimate £700,000-1,000,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- This November, Sotheby’s will bring to the market important paintings by Joaquín Sorolla, at a time when demand for the Spanish master’s work is at a high. The four works will be presented for sale between the company’s London and New York salerooms: Buscando mariscos in our New York sale of 19th Century European Art on 8 November 2013; Playa de Valencia, La llegada de la pesca, and Barcas en la playa, in our London sale of 19th Century European Paintings on 20 November 2013. The paintings, all four taking Valencia beach as their subject, are sublime distillations of Sorolla’s singular vision and painterly bravura, and will be exhibited together in Madrid on 22-24 October*.

Commenting on the appearance of Sorolla’s work at Sotheby’s this sale season Adrian Biddell, Head of Department in London notes: ‘As we have seen in the market in recent years, Sorolla’s enduring appeal for collectors continues unabated. So it is a privilege to be offering such a complimentary group of the artist’s quintessential Valencian subjects at auction, and to be able to show them together in Madrid later this month. The four works display to perfection Sorolla’s unparalleled virtuosity in capturing the essence of the scene before him, bathed in the light of his native Valencia.’

Linking the two lead Sorollas – Buscando mariscos, to be offered in New York, and Playa de Valencia to be offered in London – is their shared American exhibition history, the two canvases having been shown together in Chicago and St Louis in 1911. There Playa de Valencia was bought by West Coast businessman and philanthropist Frederick Forrest Peabody when it was shown in Chicago, while Buscando mariscos was probably purchased in 1912 or 1913 by St Louis press baron Joseph Pulitzer II, publisher of the Post-Dispatch.

Polly Sartori, Head of Sotheby’s 19th Century European Paintings department in New York, said: ‘Sotheby’s sale of these paintings could not be timelier, with the exhibition ‘Sorolla and America’ at the Meadows Museum in Dallas due to open in December. Sorolla eloquently noted his gratitude to America and the repercussions of the blockbuster one-man exhibitions held in the US during his lifetime can still be felt today.’

Sorolla first established a strong link with the United States in 1909 when he brought a group of over 350 paintings to New York, igniting a fervent American interest in his work. The occasion was the inaugural exhibition at Archer M. Huntington’s Hispanic Society. During its month-long run, nearly 170,000 people attended. Sorolla’s American audience was not only dazzled by the artist’s facility in transcribing light and its reflections onto canvas, but also his virtuoso brushwork. They intuited a sense of optimism in his work, which chimed with their outlook on life. By 1911, when Sorolla embarked on a second American tour with a showing of his paintings in Chicago and St. Louis, he was widely celebrated.

Estimated at $1,000,000-1,500,000 (£600,000-925,000 / €730,000-1,100,000**), Buscando mariscos (Hunting Shellfish) comes to the market from a New York Estate. Elegantly lyrical in its composition and appeal, Sorolla painted it towards the end of 1907, a particularly successful year for him. The theme of children playing in the surf had become closely associated with the artist’s international success. In this work, he plays an appealing variation on the subject which was so close to his heart. As his international exposure increased, Sorolla moved away from the social realist pictures he had produced in the 1890s and gravitated toward a confident balance of post-Impressionist techniques and subject matter with a more universal appeal, all the while never sacrificing his distinctive Spanish flair.

Buscando mariscos depicts a barefoot child standing in the breaking tide as she pokes the wet sand in search of buried clams. Sorolla brings his renowned observational skills to the fore in the girl’s crouching pose and the radiant effects of the afternoon sunlight. Here, pervasive violet and salmon tints describe a daringly simplified landscape. The young clam-digger’s kerchief and her plaid dress identify her as a child of a fishing village. Leaving the horizonless landscape open and uncluttered around the girl, he allows himself free reign to use the broad canvas as a display for his bravura brushwork and exceptional colour sense. In so-doing Sorolla transforms his subject into a celebration of human innocence and nature’s majesty, and envelops these collective themes into his singular vision.

Estimated at £700,000-1,000,000 ($1,130,000-1,620,000 / €840,000-1,200,000), Playa de Valencia (Valencia Beach), heads the sale of three paintings by Sorolla in Sotheby’s London sale of 19th Century European Paintings on 20 November. Painted at the end of the summer of 1910 on El Cabañal beach, it evokes the busy atmosphere of the Valencian shore as fishermen tend to their boats and unload their fish under the heat of the Mediterranean sun. With their blue and red hulled vessels angled up on the sand, the billowing white triangular forms of the sails above fill the top half of the canvas and almost blot out the sky. The sense of movement conveyed by these flapping frieze-like forms contrasts with the stolid pair of oxen seen face-on in the lower right foreground, whilst the fluidity of Sorolla’s brushstrokes imparts a life-enhancing energy to the canvas.

The subject of fishermen landing the day’s catch preoccupied Sorolla for the best part of two decades and Playa de Valencia is one of a small group of similar Valencian fishing scenes he produced the same year. Photography had a powerful influence on his work, reflected in the artist’s ability to capture the moment, the tightly cropped edges of the present work, and his unflinching choice of subject. As a teenager, he had been an apprentice in the photography studio of Antonio García in Valencia and he went on to marry García’s daughter, Clotilde.

Both Buscando mariscos and Playa de Valencia come to the market for the first time in their histories, their sale preceding the opening of the comprehensive exhibition Sorolla and America at the Meadows Museum in Dallas, Texas. Running from 13 December 2013 until 19 April 2014, the exhibition will explore for the first time Sorolla’s unique relationship with the United States in the early 20th century.

Also in the London sale are two further paintings by Sorolla of Valencia beach: La llegada de la pesca (The Return of the Catch) and Barcas en la playa (Fishing Boats on the Beach).

La llegada de la pesca (The Return of the Catch) was painted in 1898. Estimated at £150,000-250,000 ($240,000-400,000 / €180,000-300,000), it describes with compelling immediacy the busy scene of fishermen and women surrounding a boat drawn up on the beach filled with the day’s catch. By this time, Sorolla had been recording life on the Valencian beaches for several years, the subject bringing him fame and an ever increasing fortune. As the 1890s drew to a close, Sorolla’s style became looser as he perfected his rapid oil sketches. In this work, the short dabs and dashes of oil paint conjure up to brilliant effect the swarming sense of commotion in the scene. Against all this activity, Sorolla balances the composition with the sweeping triangular form of the main sail billowing out majestically in the wind and the boat lying idle at the right. At the Exposition Universal of 1900 in Paris, Monet called Sorolla ‘the master of light’ and it is easy to see how he earned this moniker from an artist equally revered for his technical facility in transcribing the natural world.

Barcas en la playa (Fishing Boats on the Beach) was painted by Sorolla in 1894. In this work, he contrasts the proud forms of the two boats in the middle-ground and the stark shadows they cast on the ground below with the scudding clouds and fluttering sail beyond. Sorolla imbues the two vessels’ workaday utilitarian hulls with a reverence which reflects both his pride in his native Valencia, and the stature he accorded the fishermen and women whose trade was so vital to the city’s wellbeing. The paired down forms of the boats and the lack of human presence – and thus narrative – distinguishes the painting from Sorolla’s compositions on the fishing theme. It is estimated to bring £250,000-350,000 ($400,000-565,000 / €300,000-420,000).

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