Painted in 1903 when Sorolla’s style had fully matured, this atmospheric and extraordinarily fluid composition depicts the fishermen’s return and the unloading of the catch. An expressive snapshot which energetically renders the reflections, movement and intense colours of light and water, the painting has all the hallmarks of the artist’s most spontaneous canvases.
Sorolla is defined in the public imagination by his paintings of the beach, and the activities, both of leisure and work, which took place upon it. As José Luis Díez writes: “An intense perception of the sea and shore was intrinsic to Sorolla’s artistic personality from the very start. The Mediterranean Sea that bordered his birthplace was always the horizon of his most personal and inner space…His vision of his subjects is characterised by two main thematic axes. First the presence of children and adolescent boys are generally nude while girls wear light tunics in the mixed space at the water’s edge or in the sea. These allowed him to study the way light reflects on wet bodies and also the graceful movement of those bodies under the full sunlight of the Levante…in the living, changing space of the beach, free of the artifice of the studio. Second, the beach was also an ideal location for observing bourgeois social relations. In both of these thematic areas, Sorolla achieved an essential visual and representative unity of figures and their surroundings the beach, rocks or the sea.” (Exh. cat., Joaquín Sorolla, Prado, Madrid, 2009, p. 69).
Within a canon of imagery which includes fisherman landing their catches, the billowing sails of their boats, elegant ladies in parasols, and children playing, a virtual constant is the water’s edge. Sorolla was the master of the fluid brushstroke, reflected in his ability to capture subtleties of expression and movement, and to conjure up atmospheric effects, both with the same fluency and economy of means.
The present work is notable for its broad, sweeping brushstrokes, which brilliantly describe the swirling eddies of the churning water, and for its impressionistic composition. The picture plane is filled entirely with action, from the movement of water and figures to the large billowing sales overhead. The scene is infused with light from above, which is reflected off the water in a palette of blue, pink, green and purple.
We are grateful to Blanca Pons-Sorolla for confirming the authenticity of this painting on the basis of a photograph, which will be included in her forthcoming Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida catalogue raisonné with the provisional number BPS 1430. The present lot has a certificate of authenticity by Francisco Pons Sorolla (dated 27 February 1973 ).