Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Capturing the Moment by Joaquín Sorolla

Zuzanna Stańska 27 February 2022 min Read

The Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla spent most of his summers with his family in French Biarritz, 35 kilometers from the border with Spain. The beach holidays were a great inspiration for the painter, who was a true master of capturing the moment.

Sorolla’s work entitled exactly Capturing the Moment demonstrates his ability. In this painting, Sorolla captured his daughter Maria preparing to take a snapshot. The camera she holds in the painting is probably the Kodak Folding Pocket Nº 0, the smallest portable model there was available at the time, which went on sale as a luxury item in 1902.

Sorolla Capturing the moment
No. 0 Folding Pocket Kodak, 1902. iCollector.

The title of the painting, Capturing the Moment, reflects both the photographic quality and the rapid, almost sketch-like technique Sorolla uses in this painting. It’s quite visible how the artist was inspired by the French Impressionists. He had come into contact with them in Paris, where his first solo exhibition had just been very well received by the critics.

The camera was often used by Sorolla and his family members.

Sorolla Capturing the moment
Joaquín Sorolla photographed while painting on the beach. Museo Sorolla.

Sorolla grew a reputation for beach scenes, which he painted endlessly, and had an uncanny ability to capture the effects of blazing Mediterranean sunlight. Many of these pictures, often large canvases, were executed “en plein air”, as evidenced by the grains of sand embedded in their densely painted surfaces.

Sorolla Capturing the moment
Joaquín Sorolla, Capturing the Moment, 1906, Sorolla Museum, Madrid, Spain. Detail.

But, as it is a summer time scene, we should say something also about the beach and the sea in Biarritz. It was once a whaling city inhabited by a few hundred people. It was described in 1843 by Victor Hugo as a “charming and beautiful place”; however, at the same time he shared his grave fear “that it would become fashionable”… And it became fashionable, beginning with the construction of the palace of Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III, in 1854.

The town has become a popular place—and not only to be among the royalty. It was one of the favorite places of Charlie Chaplin, Pablo Picasso, Winston Churchill —and Joaquin Sorolla.

Sorolla Capturing the moment
The beach in Biarritz, c. 1900. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Sorolla received the greatest recognition. In 1909, he made a successful debut in the United States in a solo exhibition at the Hispanic Society in New York City. The resulting critical acclaim won him a commission to paint President William Howard Taft in 1909. Upon his return to Spain, he purchased a beach house in Valencia, on the Mediterranean shore. For the rest of his career, he drew his inspiration from the dazzling light on the water by his home, and his beach scenes are marked by sharp contrasts of light and shade, brilliant colors, and vigorous brushstrokes.

The painting that we present today is in the collection of Sorolla Museum, one of the museums you really need to see when you’re in Madrid.

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