Curator & Art

Sun and beach (and not much more): “Sorolla y Estados Unidos” at Fundación Mapfre

I confess I like Sorolla. Who doesn’t? His famous canvasses are like an explosion of light and marine breeze that surrounds you in a warm sunny embrace. And the praise ends there. Nevertheless, Fundación Mapfre has been able to surprisingly stretch the panegyric out in order to fill its two exhibition rooms in Recoletos with “Sorolla y Estados Unidos”, a show that opened last 26th September and that will go on until 11th January.


Saliendo del baño, 1908. Oil on canvas. The Hispanic Society of America, New York.

The big informative boards that guide the visitors during the exhibition itinerary are filled with names and dates. Information that, although it pleases most of the captivated public thanks to the Valencian work –whose average age, by the way, is around 60- is indulgent and lazy. The show discourse focus on the big success that Sorolla’s painting had in Yankee territory, also praising the latter’s effort at exporting an image of “a bright and Mediterranean, optimistic and modern Spain”, contrary to the regionalisms and Black Spain cliché that some contemporaries like Zuloaga cultivated, painter so attached to the interests of the Generación del 98 intellectuals (Oh, Cuba!).


El bote blanco, 1908. Oil on canvas. Private collection.

It’s undeniable that the brilliant Levantine beach scenes from Sorolla are joyful and carefree, however, anyone that looked into the past could remember Franco’s desarrollista Spain effort into selling itself as a country of sun and sea, pigeonholing that we still haven’t been able to get away from. And it’s curious as well that these statements mark different itinerary sections when in two of them are exhibited paintings exalting the most pure-blood andalusism for his patron Thomas Fortune Ryan or a sketch of some Segovianas in regional costume, part of a mural series of works about Spanish regions for The Hispanic Society library! But the trap doesn’t stop there. The so-called modernity of Sorolla does not resist the comparison with the Impressionists –who encoded the language of short and thick brush strokes and the capturing of an instant half a century before him- or the Paris effervescent artistic outlook at that moment –Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Primitivism.


Baile en el Café Novedades de Sevilla, 1914. Oil on canvas. Banco Santander’s collection.

The fact that the exhibit has been made in consonance with American museums, where it’s been shown before its arrival to the capital, is somehow suspicious. Are we in front of a hidden ploy to use culture as a way to sell the supposed “Marca España”? Are we forced to swallow the idea that whatever is Spanish sells and is liked abroad just because of being it? Does Fundación Mapfre want to bring visitors with household names but without caring about not making a scientific or educative work? Hopefully the dazzle of Sorolla’s paintings won’t impede the public from finding the answers.


España pintoresca. Segovia, 1910. Oilon canvas. The Hispanic Society of America, New York.

Diego Fraile



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