This picture was executed when Joaquín Sorolla was at the height of his powers and international fame. The artist had spent five months in 1909 in the United States where, at the behest of his millionaire patron Archer Huntingdon, he had exhibited for the first time at the Hispanic Society of America, selling 195 of his paintings.
Sorolla had spent much of the summer of 1908 preparing for this exhibition, painting some 80 medium and large sized canvases on the beach at his native Valencia. Spurred on by the critical acclaim he had received in New York, he threw himself even more enthusiastically into his work, with a view to further exhibitions in America, for which the present work was destined.
Sorolla's intense relationship with the sea and shore were intrinsic to his artistic personality; on returning from Italy in 1889 he enjoyed an especially fruitful period of work showing the daily life and labour of those who worked on the shore. However, the focus of Sorolla's work changed as the increasing leisure time of the middle classes saw an explosion of elegant resorts and spa towns such as Biarritz and San Sebastián, and the transformation of the beach from a place of labour to one of pleasure.
Sorolla's canvases wonderfully capture the sense of freedom and innocence afforded by such a sunlit and open playground, particularly in their distinct focus on children. The artist's closeness to his own children brought with it a deep understanding of the young, whom he depicted in a direct and unsentimental way.
This sense of spontaneity was achieved not only by representing children unguarded and unposed, but also by a daring use of composition which shows the influence of photography, a medium which fascinated Sorolla. Often eschewing completely the classical rules of composition, the artist often cuts off figures at the edge of his canvas, angling the picture plane slightly forward by looking down on his subject as if it were viewed from a camera lens (fig. 1).
In the present painting, Sorolla ignores the convention of using the horizon as a framing device, instead cutting through the surf with the top edge of the composition. The young girl is captured mid-step, glancing out of the composition as if briefly distracted, her hair and dress blown lightly behind her by the summer breeze. Her stance, the strong diagonal of shoreline, and the almost palpable breeze create a powerful sense of movement. Beyond, a fisherman sits languidly in his boat mending nets, the sun sparkling brilliantly on the water, with the surf shining white as the waves break, rolling in towards the shore. The whole is a masterful example of Sorolla's ability to combine his craft as a painter to create an almost tangible sense of heat and light, with a radically modern approach to both subject matter and composition which brings his paintings so vividly to life.
We are grateful to Blanca Pons Sorolla for assisting in the cataloguing and research on this lot. It will be included in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné under no. BPS 1973.