Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (Spanish, 1863-1923) Study for La vuelta de la pesca

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Lot 78
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida
(Spanish, 1863-1923)
Study for La vuelta de la pesca

Sold for £ 308,750 (US$ 424,582) inc. premium
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (Spanish, 1863-1923)
Study for La vuelta de la pesca
signed 'J. Sorolla Bastida' (lower right)
oil on canvas
66.3 x 45.5cm (26 1/8 x 17 15/16in).


  • We are grateful to Blanca Pons-Sorolla for confirming the attribution to Joaquin Sorolla. The work is included in Blanca Pons-Sorolla's catalogue under inventory number BPS 722 / PANTORBA 1291.

    A gift from the artist to Doctor Luis Soler y Soto, post 1900.
    Bequeathed by the above to his son Luis Soler Puchol.
    Gifted by the above to his godson, the present owner.

    Madrid, Casón del Buen Retiro, Joaquín Sorolla. Primer centenario de su nacimiento (1863-1923), 22 April - 30 June 1963, no. 13, lent by Luis Soler Puchol.

    Bernardino de Pantorba, La vida y la obra de Joaquín Sorolla, estudio biográfico y crítico, Madrid, 1953, no. 1291.
    José Luis Diez and Javier Barón, Joaquín Sorolla 1863-1923, Madrid, 2009, pp. 236 and 241, footnote 16, listing this work and pl. 189, illustrating a photograph of Sorolla's studio in Pasaje de la Alhambra, circa 1900, showing the present oil hanging on the extreme left (fig. 1).

    Painted during the summer of 1894 at Valencia, the present work is one of sixteen known studies for Joaquín Sorolla's celebrated oil La vuelta de la pesca (Musée d'Orsay, Paris; 265 x 325cm. fig. 2), which he executed that year specifically for the Paris Salon of 1895. When the latter was exhibited at the Salon under the title Retour de la pêche: haulage de la barque, it received resounding praise, so much so that it was awarded a second class gold medal, the highest accolade for a foreign artist, and soon after was bought by the French State to hang in the Musée du Luxembourg (fig. 3). La vuelta de la pesca not only marked Sorolla's first international success but consolidated his reputation in Spain. At the same time, it defined a watershed in his art that heralded the onset of his mature style, a view that Sorolla reflected upon in a letter written in 1912 to his biographer Rodolpho Gil: 'How long did it take me to form my style? Twenty years! ... Until my painting in the Luxembourg [La vuelta de la pesca], the ideal I was pursuing had not unfolded before me in all its breath' (quoted by Rodolpho Gil in Joaquín Sorolla, 1913, p. 29).

    Sorolla was not the only one to recognise the oil's importance within his oeuvre. Among later commentators, Marqués de Lozoya (in Catálogo de la Exposición Sorolla. Su obra en el Arte Español y sus obras en la Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1942) noted: 'There is a moment in every artist's career which usually follows many years of strenuous effort, in which experiences are accumulated in an intuition of marvellous clarity; the artist's vision becomes precise and clear; the paths that lead to success are firmly perceived and easily and happily pursued, without any effort at all... For Sorolla this moment arrived with his first beach scenes: La vuelta de la pesca (1894) and Pescadores Valencianos (1895) ... These paintings do not resemble any of those he had painted before and in all of them we find the vigour of the best of Spanish painting.'

    La vuelta de la pesca is a symphony of light and shadow, where the dazzling heat of the Spanish sun is shown to brilliant effect. Sorolla was inspired to paint the scene after observing the local fisherman at work at El Cabañal beach in Valencia. At the centre is a fishing boat being hauled through the shallows by a pair of yoked oxen; seated upon the right hand one is a drover – the subject of the present study – who, deep in concentration, skilfully steers the oxen to shore. To their left is a fishing vessel; two fishermen remain in the boat, two others stand knee-deep in the sea while above them the canvas is dominated by a billowing white lateen sail.

    Sorolla's naturalistic depiction of an everyday scene takes on epic proportions that echo Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19; Musée du Louvre). The composition is arranged along strong diagonal lines, principally formed from the boat, the oxen and sail, while the drover, and to a lesser extent the standing fisherman in the left foreground, provide contrasting verticals that act as a visual anchor to the whole. The drover therefore plays a key position within the composition, emphasised by his form being silhouetted against the uninterrupted blues of the sea and sky. Interestingly this study shows how Sorolla had previously considered a higher horizon which he then lowered in the finished oil. The result was to place even greater emphasis on the drover.

    In the Museo Sorolla, Madrid, are several contemporary photographs of boats being towed onto the shore by a pair of oxen; as here one is ridden by a drover (illustrated in Diez and Barón, op. cit., p. 235; fig. 4). Whilst useful aides-memoir, when it came to executing the finished oil, Sorolla principally relied upon the series of studies he made at El Cabañal. Such a study as this demonstrates the painstaking care he took in capturing the effects of the hot Valencian sun. Working upon a ready primed canvas, he has applied fluid paint to achieve a striking luminosity, using for instance rich sweeps of white and pale turquoise around the drover's hat to denote the bleached sky and similarly so to capture glints of light upon the water below. In between is a stronger blue line to mark the horizon. Elsewhere he introduces soft pinks and oranges to bring life to the drover's white shirt sleeves. In contrast, his face is shaded by a broad brimmed hat so that his distinctive profile is clearly defined against the much lighter backdrop. Below the seated figure one can see the head and horns of the right-hand ox, while in the upper right-hand corner is a rudimentary sketch for the rump of an oxen – a reflection of Sorolla's passion for depicting this noble beast.

    Studies for Sorolla's masterpiece are of great importance and are considered finished works in their own right. Among those in public collections is another oil from 1894 showing the drover as well as the ox's head and neck (Museo Nacional de Belles Artes de Cuba, Havana; 67.5 x 47cm), while two studies for the oxen, one of the left-hand ox and the other of both oxen, are respectively in the Circulo de Bellas Artes, Valencia and the Museo Sorolla, Madrid. The artist also gave some of his studies to his friends; included is one of the two oxen in the water, which he gifted to Pedro Gil (now in a private collection). Likewise, Sorolla gave the present study to another of his close friends, Doctor Luis Soler y Soto who belonged to the same medical circle that Sorolla befriended. It is unclear whether the artist gave the study to his friend to mark a special occasion or offered it in gratitude for Soler's work as a gynaecologist. The latter then bequeathed this oil to his son, the diplomat and ambassador Luis Soler Puchol. In turn he gave it to his godson and thus since its creation, this study has remained in private hands.

    We are grateful Alice Munro-Faure for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (Spanish, 1863-1923) Study for La vuelta de la pesca
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (Spanish, 1863-1923) Study for La vuelta de la pesca
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (Spanish, 1863-1923) Study for La vuelta de la pesca
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