Bizarre as it may strike you, I happen to be one of those people with favorite galleries and museums; I genuinely cannot help myself. It’s a madness. Of course, saying that the Louvre or the Louisiana or the Tate Modern is your absolute favorite ever doesn’t count. You’ve gotta go out of your way, you’ve gotta find that one place you swear could be your home, your corner of the world. And I’ve found it; I found it at the age of seventeen, I believe, on a history of art trip to Madrid.
The Museo Sorolla is, to me, that one magical place. Of course, I have other favorites; the Musée Rodin in Paris, which I had the great advantage of growing up next-door to, is one of them; Liljevalchs, another. But Museo Sorolla is both a great gallery and my dream home, merged in one. You basically just need to see the garden, the detail, the bright walls and all the different rooms, the Spanish somberness mixed with Moorish patterns in every color you could possibly imagine. Truly enchanting stuff. The house itself, which is the former residence of painter Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) contains most of the artist’s work hung up seemingly randomly in chambers reminding you of a partially depleted antique market. The paintings are striking in their own right; waves of color, light and foam, creating portraits of sea and summer, youth and garments blown in healthy gusts of sea-breeze. It is difficult to find work that conveys a similar feeling of freedom and movement; seas tremble, the coats of animals glisten in the sun, children laugh and run across dunes. Sails shake and waves crash, and there’s a joie de vivre to everything the man depicts, from ox to crumpling veil.
You get a strong feeling that these paintings belong at home, or maybe in a sun-lit beach house outside Valencia, the places most of Sorolla’s paintings depict; not in the Petit Palais, the Prado, or anywhere else. Just like the painter felt confined by the regulated practice of portrait painting, his work would feel confined in the presence of tamer, quieter work. There is no shade of politics, no malice there; Sorolla was, in his lifetime, embraced by his surroundings, financially adept, and showed a greater interest and compassion for his direct community (he was an orphan, which could potentially explain this interest). Most of his work was donated to the public by his widow, Clotilde, whom he continuously portrayed.