Spanish Masters II

Celebrating light

Joachim Sorolla Morning sun.jpg
Photo: Collection Pérez Simón / Fundación JAPS, Mexico © Photo : Studio Sébert Photographers

Joaquin Sorolla, Morning sun,1901

The writers of art history books consider Goya as the most extraordinary Spanish painter of the early part of 19th century. Indeed, he was a genius and because of his influence on later 19th and 20th century painters, some have referred to him as the Father of Modern Art. Art history writers, however, pay little or no attention to these Spanish artists who preceded the 20th century avant-garde and whom we are given a chance to discover in the exhibition of the Musée des beaux arts du Québec: Du Greco à Dali.

One might be tempted to call these artists Impressionists, and it would not be totally false. The brush stoke is the same. The period is also the same: the transition between the 19th and the 20th century, a period of major changes in Europe that had an impact on Spanish society as well as its art. The fact is that, in Spain, a new class of patrons of the arts was emerging, and also were developing artistic structures: galleries and exhibitions, which in turn created a new public. It is evident that life as it is reflected in the works of an artist like Joachim Sorolla, among others, is indicative of such changes that occurred not only in the themes these artists worked on, but also in the way they were experimenting with new pictorial techniques.

Much like in the Impressionist movement, one finds in the Spanish art of that time a leaning toward landscapes (in this case, marine landscapes particularly), city scenes and portraits. There is an obvious influence of photography in the way the subject is dealt with: the composition is more open and the point of view is different from that found traditionally. Although applied generally to literature, we could easily call 'costumbrismo' the works of artists like Sorolla or Barrau Buñol because, despite their realistic approach of customs and social themes, they make no comment, no judgement on these issues. Further, it is interesting to see how Spanish artists of that period have suggested the movement of the characters depicted. The woman in the foreground of the painting The Morning Sun (see picture) would be a good illustration of this point.

Again, like the Impressionists at that time, many artists in Spain were working in the out of doors, doing what has been called "plein air" painting. This of course led to a particular interest in light, a light that however was very different from and much brighter than that of the Impressionists. Light had been an essential element of traditional Spanish art, particularly the art of masters such as Velazquez and Ribera. The light there was essentially theatrical but there never existed before such sun-drenched scenes, an aspect of Spanish art that needed to be acclaimed.

The exhibition that ends on January 9, 2011, (you should hurry to see it if you have not yet done so) also features major works of the Spanish avant-garde: Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Juan Gris, Joan Miro, Antoni Tapies, many of them unknown works that the Quebec public can have the unique opportunity to appreciate. The exhibition is also accompanied by a remarkable catalogue.