Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Sorolla sketch

I was scrolling through some Sorolla paintings on the net and I found this half finished painting by the Spanish master. I always look twice when I see an unfinished picture by a great artist. It often reveals their working methods. I am not an expert on Sorolla's technique and I have seen Sorolla's that were half finished and NOT done on a colored ground. But let me see what I can find in here.
  • The painting is done on a colored ground, and that is what caught my attention. Because he is such a high key painter I find that a bit surprising. Usually high key painters work on a white ground. The ground looks like an earth red, either a red ocher, or maybe burnt sienna and it looks to me as if he has stained the canvas with it. I would suppose that was done with a rag and solvent, and then allowed to dry.
  • I think that he sketched a few major lines with charcoal or a pencil. I see evidence of that around the table top and in the delineation of that unfinished chair on the left. But I don't think there is much drawing under here, just some cursory gesture lines and a few straight edge lines where he knew he would need them. As soon as he knew how he was going to fit the image onto the canvas he got out a brush.
  • Next I think he began working with his black and starting with the female figure on the right began to define the figures and get the structure of the darks in the grouping of figures.
  • After a very short time he grabbed a second brush loaded with flake white and starting next to the dark, left most figure began developing the lights, he loaded that passage with the white to get opacity and contrast there. I think he was working at enormous velocity. He had all or at least several of the figures before him. The guys in the hats could have been posed by a single model, but without a doubt the female figure at the right was standing before him as he worked. The grayer passages like the back wall are simply the flake white with a little black in it. He painted around the box holding the flowers on the left and the two chairs, leaving his ground visible. That let the ground do some of the drawing for him.
  • Finally he painted in the plates and tchotchkes ( spell check doesn't like that word, suggested crotchless instead ) on the shelf in the background. There are a few places here where he left the ground behind to help his image along and a few dark accents. Then he put the cobalt down into the shadowed part of the tablecloth. He also hit that ladies sash in the middle of the picture with that.
  • Notice how he picked out the figure of the woman on the right by using the transparency of the flake white allowing the ground to show through, so that his shadow note is warm and the opaque white represents the lights, and is cooler than the shadow note. Transparency gives him temperature control and white, no less. It is ordinary to do this sort of thing in black or umber over a brown ground, but doing it in white is tricky. That's a a nicer move, fast and easy.
  • He then threw a little green, maybe chromium oxide or viridian for a few accents. one, two. three spots right across the middle of the canvas. Even money says he faked the one on the right for balance.
  • The red notes in the standing figures across the middle ground are probably vermilion. That was in common use and appears to be about the right hue in the reproduction. Then for some reason he quit. I wonder why? Seems like he was off to a good start.
  • This whole thing happened really fast. He pretty much painted it in black and white over a brown ground and the poked a few accent colors into it. ZAP!


Charles Valsechi III said...

Awesome post. I hope you do more of these in the future. Especially, on Sorolla!

jake gumbleton said...

Brilliant posst. He was so efficent and expressive.

Bernie's Art said...

Really Interesting. I love the way that you seem to get right down to the mitty-gritty !

Karla said...

Thanks again Stape. Very interesting stuff. At first, I thought the woman was making a bed and wondered What all those people were doing in the bedroom? Maybe that is what his wife said and he threw it down in frustration. ha!

Todd Bonita said...

Hi Stape,
I like when you do this type of post. Very insightful, getting to the nitty-gritty of how it's done. Please do more like this, it's a unique perspective and a critical examination that yielded a few ureka moments for me. I always wonder how they did that. Thanks for your seasoned analysis.
All the best,

Silvio Silvestri said...

Hi Stap, yes, great post, great painter. Could you address the use of white and how it contributes to his paintings, perhaps the large neutral helps the figures pop? Thanks,

willek said...

Great post, Stape. Very insightful and helpful. Do more. I wonder if he thought it might have composition problems with it? It is kind of loaded to the right side.

Pam Holnback said...

What a find! Great post! I had to scroll/read back and forth over and over to get all of this. Love his bits of red/green/blue and you noting them. Really made me look again! Thank you!

billspaintingmn said...

Stape! I couldn't have read a better post than this! Inspiring and informative!
You went straight to the process
of how.
Makes me want to pick up a brush and give this a try... see how you are!

Anonymous said...

Hi Stape,
This was great, I have been struggling to work on a white canvas all year, getting a "hangover" the next day when I see my colors indoors...oooouuugh!
Bongart always started us w/a wash of prussian/ivory blk, which made the lights pop for we students, outdoors. The warm underpainting could work for me for interior here in the desert. where even north light is so intense. I really like painting the white areas so soon, sort of like watercolorists finding the whites first. I remember working w/ flake white back in the 60's, it was sort of transparent? or not as opaque as the whites we have today. Wasn't it lead based, or am I confused?! Is there a white equivalent to it today? Thank you ,Terry

barbara b. land of boz said...

Wow Stape, it was almost as if you were that "fly" on the wall when he was painting this piece. Thank you for this wonderful teaching post. Keep it coming, it's spring and we must continue learning during this time of "rebirth".

Denise said...

Wonderful post ! Love the dissection of this unfinished work. Underpainting reminds me of the terra rosa underpainting I use most all the time. Thanks!

Deb said...

Dang, you're good. I feel like I watched him painting this. Better than a video!
You didn't miss a trick....

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will do more. I need to finish the Ingre thing next though.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

Nit and grit served hot, here!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think you may be onto something. I suspect he disliked the composition.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks I hope I got it right.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will return to Sorolla in my hundred artists list.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That and it has that big empty foreground.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, pick up that brush!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I would like to know more about Bongart had to say.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. I could use some spring. The snow is melting here.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Terra Rosa is in the same family of colors, that should work just fine.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. Maybe I need to make a video. I could get Walter Brennan to play me!

Charles Valsechi III said...
I found this link with more unfinished sorolla work. It seems like he worked on some sort of toned ground.