Spanish Paintings for Sotheby’s 19th Century European Paintings Sale

Sotheby’s 19th Century European Paintings sale on Wednesday, June 3, 2009, features a choice group of 15 works by some of the most representative Spanish artists of the time: Hermenegildo Anglada-Camarasa, Santiago Rusiñol, José Maria Sert, Joaquín Sorolla and Ignacio Zuloaga. The Bathing Hour, a striking canvas by Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) is the highlight of this section as it has never before been seen in public and has always remained in private collections. The Bathing Hour will be exhibited for the first time ever at Sotheby’s Madrid on May 25-26 to coincide with the inauguration at the Prado Museum of the most important retrospective on the life and work of this internationally renowned artist.

Painted in 1915 but signed and dated in 1917, The Bathing Hour is one of a select number of oils that Sorolla executed on La Malvarrosa beach at Valencia that year. Sorolla’s time in his home town in the summer of 1915 provided a welcome respite from the major project that had been occupying the majority of his time since 1911, namely the commission from Archer M. Huntington to paint a series of monumental canvases on the theme of the Vision of Spain for the Hispanic Society of America, New York. This massive series of canvases celebrating Spanish regional life necessitated that Sorolla travel extensively throughout Spain to paint the local peoples and record their customs. Returning in the summers to the city in which he had grown up and where he could relax with his family by the sea offered him a much needed break from Huntington’s mammoth task as well as the opportunity to turn his attention to more liberating subjects.

The striking spontaneity of Sorolla’s depiction of the young girl running into the sea, the boy lying on the shore and the small child playing in the waves is matched by the artist’s dramatic use of foreshortening to eliminate the horizon line, the reduction of all other pictorial elements to bare essentials: sea, sand and boats, and his audacious palette. Blanca Pons Sorolla, the artist’s great niece, biographer and leading expert, observes that the model for the young girl was almost certainly Sorolla’s youngest child Elena. Of the group of works Sorolla painted in the summer of 1915, including the present work, she notes: “There are not many, but they are of great quality.”

Adrian Biddell, Senior Director of the 19th Century European Painting Department who oversaw the record-breaking sale of Sorolla’s La hora del baño in 2003 for £3.7 million, stated: “The first time I saw The Bathing Hour I was struck by the consummate cleverness and dynamism of Sorolla. He paints with great liberty, in full command of his painterly technique and uses a daring palette of purples and mauves. He captures the speed and the energy of the young girl dashing into the sea, as if it were a camera snapshot. He has left behind the social realism of his early oeuvre, and in this mature stage delights in the subject that has always mattered most to him: family happiness, in this instance featuring Elena prominently in the composition.”

Throughout his career, Sorolla returned to Valencian scenes, which demonstrate his fascination with the shimmer of light on the sea and sand, and with the movement of children at play. Sorolla’s increasing use of children as a subject matter was inspired by his growing family and the importance that he attached to domestic life, not least as a response to his own upbringing: he had been orphaned as a child and raised by relatives. His paintings retain a much-admired photographic spontaneity, a technique first inspired by his mentor Antonio Garcia Peris, a local photographer who provided the young Sorolla with his initial artistic training. Aware of his straitened circumstances García offered to pay for the cost of much of his schooling and in return Sorolla worked in his photography laboratory, thus gaining an introduction to the compositional opportunities that photography offered. There Sorolla fell in love with García’s second daughter, Clotilde, whom he married in 1888, a union that ensured continuing close ties with García and his photographic business. The Bathing Hour is estimated to sell in the region of £1,700,000-2,500,000 / €1,840,000 – 2,700,000.

Marta Enrile, Senior Specialist in 19th and 20th century Spanish Paintings, explains: “All of the Spanish artists in this sale knew one another; they all coincided in Paris during the 1890’s and remained in contact throughout their careers. Santiago Rusiñol and Ignacio Zuloaga shared a flat in Montmartre. Zuloaga exhibited alongside Hermenegildo Anglada-Camarasa in the International Fair in Dresden in 1901. Rusiñol became a close friend of José María Sert. This circle of friends influenced each other yet each of them developed a very personal style and we are fortunate to have together a selection of works that showcases at once their individuality as painters and the wealth of artistic talent in Spain at the time.”

Aside from earning international recognition as an artist and portraitist, Ignacio Zuloaga (1870-1945) became known for his criticism of the Spanish establishment given the decline of the nation’s political and intellectual influence in the world following the disastrous defeat in the Cuban War in 1898. Zuloaga was a member of what became known as the Generation of 98, a term coined by the Spanish poet and writer José Martínez Ruíz, better known as Azorín, a close friend and a keen defendant of Zuloaga’s interpretation of Spain over many decades. The man of letters was reunited with the painter during his exile from Spain in Paris after the Spanish Civil War and in 1941 Zuloaga painted Azorín. This extraordinarily compelling likeness of the intellectual marks the climax of Zuloaga’s formidable talents as a portraitist and at the same time represents the noble twilight of a glorious era. Depicted holding his most recent publication dedicated to Zuloaga Pensando en España (Thinking of Spain), Zuloaga shows Azorín in reflective mood, surrounded by his books against the dramatic backdrop of a Castillian landscape, Spain’s historic heartland.

The work is signed and dedicated a Azorín / su amigo / I Zuloaga (to Azorín / his friend / I Zuloaga). The artist gave it to the writer and it has remained in the family ever since. It comes to the market for the first time ever, with an estimate of £200,000-300,000 / € 216,000–324,000.

Another painting which has never before come up for auction is Hermenegildo Anglada-Camarasa’s Nocturne, Cala Murta. Painted in 1933, it is one of only a very few nocturnes executed by the artist in Majorca. Following his time in Paris and in search of a quieter life Anglada-Camarasa returned to Spain to settle in Pollensa (Majorca), close to Cala Murta, an inlet located on the south side of the rocky Formentor peninsula of the island. His retreat from the upbeat Paris nightlife to Majorca brought about a fundamental change in his technique. The natural wonders of Majorca and this secluded area in particular was a recurring source of inspiration for the artist and he turned increasingly to an exclusive contemplation of the landscape. Colour remained his primary concern, however he moved away from the use of glazes, instead applying paint thickly on to the canvas directly from the tube, and developing in the process an array of striking colour combinations. The unusually selective palette, dominated by the cold, intense blue of the jagged cliffs and sea, juxtaposed with the delicate yellows and pinks of the full moon, add to the strength of expression and atmosphere seen in this work. Purchased directly from the painter in the early 1950’s, the painting has always been in the same collection. It carries an estimate of £200,000-300,000 / € 216,000–324,000.

Painted circa 1898, Golden Cypresses – The Orchard of the Duke of Gor is an early example of both the order and organic forms that attracted Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931) to the subject of the garden in his painting. The work featured in Rusiñol’s seminal and highly acclaimed exhibition Jardins d’Espagne in the Salon du Champ-de-Mars in Paris in 1899. Following the success of the exhibition, one work was acquired by the French State for the Musée de Luxembourg and another by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Like the majority of the works in the Paris exhibition, the present canvas celebrates Rusiñol’s love of Granada and the light and colour of its gardens. Rusiñol’s burgeoning success enabled him to return again and again to the subject of gardens, and for even longer periods to Andalusia. He first discovered the painterly possibilities of Granada during his visit there in September 1887, and on a subsequent visit he painted the present work. Describing his passion for the city of the Alhambra he said: “Since I left Granada I have no other idea but to return to it.” Golden Cypresses – The Orchard of the Duke of Gor has remained in the same private collection for the last six decades and has an estimate of £120,000-180,000 / € 130,000-195,000.

The work of José Maria Sert, a decorator to some of the wealthiest and most influential collectors and connoisseurs of his time, illustrates the international influence that Catalan artists enjoyed in the early twentieth century. Included in the sale is a series of seven monumental oil paintings commissioned by King Alfonso XIII of Spain to be woven into tapestries at the Real Fábrica de Tapices (Royal Tapestry workshop) in Madrid. The tapestries, however, were never embarked on, and Sert subsequently exhibited the present works in New York at the Wildenstein Gallery. The industrialist, property developer and philanthropist, Henry Carnegie Phipps purchased the series to decorate the drawing room of his mansion first in Palm Beach, Florida, and subsequently Roslyn, New York.

The royal commission demanded a grand scale and Sert looked to the great decorative schemes of the Baroque and the tapestries of Rubens for inspiration. For the flamboyant subject matter he selected scenes from the street theatre, circus acrobats and gypsies that had left such a lasting impression on him as a child growing up in Barcelona. Depicting both the pomp and ceremony, and folklore and comedy of life, Sert created a world in which carnivalesque characters produce a whirlwind of colour and movement. The series was painted during 1922-23, and the composition of the The Carousel was inspired by Sert’s involvement with Diaghilev and the Russian Ballet, first in the staging of Joseph in 1914, and subsequently in the 1916 production of Las Meninas composed by Fauré. This panel, like the others in the series was purchased by Mr. Phipps in 1924 and is now being offered by the Phipps Family Trust with an estimate of £100,000-150,000 / €108,000–162,000.