Saturday, December 22, 2007

Book Review: Joaquin Sorolla

I've already talked a bit about Joaquin Sorolla in the post relating to visiting his once-home/studio. I didn't have any books on Sorolla at the time, but always intended to get one. After visiting, I was sold and set about seeing which books were the best. My other half did some research and discovered the book Sorolla by Blanca Pons-Sorolla. It was well reviewed, was new (which is always best when surveying art books) and was written by a relative. By the time we found out about it, it was on "Special Order" on Amazon, you know, where it says it should arrive in a couple of weeks. We placed the order and forgot about it. Over a month later we got an email saying it may or may not come. We assumed this meant it was out of print, and not just ordered in small quantities from the publisher.

I contacted the publisher by email and was informed that, yes, it was indeed out of print. I was also informed that it would remain so for the foreseeable future. We then anxiously scoured the web and found a copy for sale in some New York bookstore, ordered it by phone and got it. I haven't seen it available anywhere since.

I got it, you don't.
Which is all a shame because the book is fabulous. Written by the artist's granddaughter, who is also involved in the Sorolla Museum, it features a wealth of very well-printed paintings and fantastic text. I quite often read my art books, and enjoy learning about their lives and struggles, the hidden parts--the parts I relate to.

In Sorolla's case, it was a wonderful account of one who didn't come from much, worked and studied hard to build on an innate childhood talent and took those things to fantastic heights. His wife, Clotilde, who figures so prominently in his catalog of portraits over the decades, was his steadfast support--he met her fairly young and by all accounts they had a successful and pleasant marriage with no shadow of major problems that can so often be a part of artists' life stories. Of course, with a granddaughter writing the book, it's possible these things were passed over, but I'd like to think it was simply an accurate account.

Sorolla would travel quite often to paint his large canvases plein-air, and when he could he'd bring his family. When he couldn't he wrote letters home to his wife, portions of which are excerpted in the book. It's there that you learn about his struggles in a way only seen these days in blogs...and even then, the letters were intended for private use and so have a greater level of intimacy. In them, Sorolla relates to his wife the beauty of the places he's painting, describing them for his absent wife in poetic tones rarely used these days without people looking at you like you're a nut. As well, he also often relates the utter frustration and sometimes sheer exhaustion of his work. It's difficult to hear him relate to his exhaustion in ways that make it sound like he might've been doing hard labor, but it is a constant theme through his life, and at times he believes his occasional ill health is a result.

Living at a time when many of my favorite artists lived, it was fascinating to read his accounts of meetings with other artists I loved--social gatherings with artists like Lawrence Alma-Tadema and other greats whose books already line my shelves.

In the end, we see another of many artists who are artists to the very end, as he was finally done in in the midst of painting a portrait. The portrait was thus never finished, and is included in the book.

Like I said, the book is out of print. Though there are other books available, which would all be recommended for their art, this is the one I read. I prefer Monographs, but this other one intrigues me as well, since I always considered Sorolla to be the Spanish Sargeant--as good a colorist if not better...although now that I look at it, it appears they're all out of print!

R.I.P. 2007

Have a great Christmas and a safe New Year. Most of you will be playing with new gadgets and with family/friends, so perhaps I'll give the blog a break til 08.