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  • Writer's pictureRomina Rosso

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida the master of Ligh: La vuelta de la pesca (The Return from Fishing)

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

La vuelta de la pesca (The Return from Fishing) 1894, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
La vuelta de la pesca (The Return from Fishing) 1894, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

One of my favourite artists is Sorolla. I discovered him a lot of years ago through a beautiful exhibition advert, but last year I was so lucky to see his works in a stunning exhibition in the National Gallery in London Sorolla Spanish Master of Light.

In 1908 he was being described in London as “the World’s Greatest Living Painter” before Picasso and Dalì, but nowadays he is almost forgotten.

Sorolla, as a Valencian painter, consolidated a reputation for beach executed with an unparalleled virtuosity of brushstroke and an uncanny ability for capturing the effect of blazing Mediterranean sunlight.

Many of these pictures, often large canvases, were executed en plain air, as evidenced by the grains of sand embedded in their densely painted surfaces.

La vuelta de la pesca (The Return from Fishing) 1894 was painted for the annual Salon de la Société des Artistes Français in Paris, it received a second class medal.

After the shows closed it was bought by the French State for the Musée du Luxembourg for 6.000 francs, today it is in the Musée d’Orsay.

This epic picture is organised along a strong diagonal axis, principally formed from the boat, the sail and oxen, while the drover, and to a lesser extent the standing fisherman in the left foreground, provide contrasting verticals that act as a visual anchor to the whole.

The three men in and around the boat are partially cropped and add to the dynamism of the scene: one, in the back, pushes against the hull to stabilize the boat; another leans across the deck towards the bow; the third, masterfully obstructed by the sweeping curve of sail, energetically pushes on an oar.

La vuelta de la pesca (The Return from Fishing), detail
La vuelta de la pesca (The Return from Fishing), detail

In the foreground, a muscular figure strains under the weight of a wooden block with which he intends to chock the boat.

The angle of his body turning back leads us to the drover, seated in a key position in the composition, emphasised by his form being silhouetted against the uninterrupted blues of the sea and sky.

The huge sail, catching the rays of the sun in multiple ways and distorting the shadow of the mast, is built of a virtuosic variety of whites.

In the distance, the horizon merges with the sea, its surface saturated with glimmering sunlight, the sky covered by a thin haze characteristic of the hottest days of summer.

Only two distant sails help establish the limit between the sea and the sky.

Close to the foreground, the water is built up of an array of brushstrokes and colours: white, blue and green and turquoise.

Short dabs of bright greens, pinks, oranges, purples and reds animated the highlights and shadows throughout and announce Sorolla’s extreme technical prowess at depicting the fleeting effects of light.

As one of Sorolla’s biographers analysing the picture said: “one might almost say that it was his first Sorolla”.

You can almost smell the sea water, feel the light breeze and the hot Mediterranean sun.

This quiet naturalistic scene of the hard work of fishermen in a vibrant sea landscape in a large canvas was the first painting of this subject that Sorolla painted and gave him his national and international fame as the painter of Light.

La vuelta de la pesca (The Return from Fishing), detail
La vuelta de la pesca (The Return from Fishing), detail

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