Una azotea con flores signed and dated 'J. Sorolla Bastida/1902' (lower left), also inscribed and dated 'a M. Claretie/Paris 1906' (lower left) oil on canvas 54.5 x 75.5cm (21 7/16 x 29 3/4in).
PROVENANCE A gift from the artist to Jules-Arsène-Arnaud Claretie, 1906. The Claretie family, Paris. Sale, Christie's, London, 4 December 1973, lot 9 (sold for £17,000 to Dr. Rau).
EXHIBITED Paris, Galeries Georges Petit, Exposition Sorolla y Bastida, 11 June-10 July 1906, no. 5. Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Exposição temporária da Colecção Dr. Gustav Rau, 18 May-15 October 2006.
LITERATURE B. de Pantorba, La Vida y La Obra de Joaquin Sorolla, Madrid, 1970, p. 185, no. 1484.
The present lot is historically and academically important within the oeuvre of Joaquin Sorolla. Painted in 1902, probably in Valencia, the work is one of the earliest garden studies the artist ever painted; the Impressionist style and the colour tone is a stylistic prelude to many of the artist's important works of the early 1900s.
In the early years of the 20th Century, Sorolla sought to widen his repertoire and broaden his audience, adding new subjects, such as garden scenes, and increasing the number of portrait commissions. In 1900, having been awarded the Grand Prix at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, Sorolla was exposed to an increasing variety of modern art movements, and formed friendships with a number of important and diverse artists, such as John Singer Sargent, Giovanni Boldini, Anders Zorn, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Claude Monet. These encounters gave Sorolla an insight into the possibilities of diversifying both his style and his choice of subjects.
Sorolla uses gardens and banks of flowers as a backdrop for a number of his most successful paintings in the following years, such as 1904's La Siesta en el Jardin (Private Collection), a charming work depicting the artist's daughters at rest under a garden terrace, where the garden provides a sympathetic backdrop to the subject of his two sleeping models. In his stunning 1906 work Maria dressed as a Valencian Peasant Girl (Private Collection), the subject, again the artist's daughter, stands off-centre in the composition, making the 'light falling on the colours of the plants and flowers in the garden the central protagonist of the canvas...the leafy luxuriance of a garden, which the artist's brush has turned into a dazzling, vehement explosion of patches of light and colour that spread out like tesserae in a mosaic' (José Luis Diez and Javier Barón, 'Joaquin Sorolla, Painter', Museo Nacional Del Prado, exhibition catalogue, pp. 361-363).
The garden is also the setting for Sorolla's 1906 work The Painter Raimundo De Madrazo and the 1911 portrait of Louis Comfort Tiffany (both Hispanic Society of America, New York), where again the backdrop shares a tonal sympathy with the sitter. What these works have in common is that all of the sitters are intimately connected to the artist; and while the garden does form the backdrop for some of the artist's more formal portraiture, such as his important 1907 portrait King Alfonso XIII in Hussar's Uniform (Property of the King of Spain), most of Sorolla's garden portraits were 'of people who shared some special relation with the painter, whether that be personal or artistic'. (Sorolla exhibition catalogue, p. 363).
Sorolla also painted gardens and flowers as subjects in themselves, and the present lot is one of the earliest examples of these studies. Sorolla spent many hours visiting gardens in Paris, Alicante, Valencia and Andalusia, and designed the gardens of his Madrid residence in an Andalusian style, intending them be to a place of peace and tranquillity. This garden was the subject of one of Sorolla's final canvases Garden of the Sorolla House, 1920 (Museo Sorolla, see fig.1).
Gardens had a profound effect on Sorolla, as evidenced in a letter from the artist written in 1917, following a visit to Seville: 'what roses, what arbours, ponds, tiled benches, magnificent trees, all smelling of orange blossom, all warmed by an atmosphere filled with life, joy, sunshine... my soul is laughing' (Epistolarios de Joaquin Sorolla, vol. III, quoted in Sorolla exhibition catalogue, p.467)
Una azotea con flores is also an interesting compliment to the series of studies of orange groves that Sorolla produced in Alcira (a small village near the Valencian coast, where the artist often stayed) between 1902 and 1904, such as Orange trees on the road to the sea 1903 (Private collection), works where 'fruit and foliage colour the whitewashed walls with their reflections in compositions whose warm orange hues are balanced by the green shades of vegetation that is sometimes ordered by architecture...and sometimes overflowing' (Sorolla exhibition catalogue, p. 32).
The present lot was one of the 450 works shown at the artist's first one-man show, which took place at Galeries Georges Petit in Paris in 1906. Maria dressed as a Valencian Peasant Girl was also shown at this exhibition. The exhibition was a resounding critical and financial success, selling 65 works for a total of 230,650 Francs.
Following the exhibition, the artist dedicated and dated the work 'A M. Claretie/Paris 1906'. Jules Arsène Arnaud Claretie (1840-1913) was a French historian, novelist and playwright. At the time of the gift, Claretie was the manager of the famous Comédie Française in Paris.
We are grateful to Blanca Pons-Sorolla for confirming the authenticity of the present work on first-hand inspection, and for her assistance in cataloguing this lot. The present lot is listed in Blanca Pons-Sorolla's catalogue of Sorolla's work as number BPS773 and will appear in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné.