In yesterday's post we looked at correspondences in the paintings and fashion illustrations of Marcello Dudovich. Yet the curators at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid will be taking the theme of art and fashion further with a unique exhibition organised jointly with the Museo Sorolla.
Curated by Eloy Martínez de la Pera and opening on 13th February (through 27th May 2018), "Sorolla and Fashion" will encourage visitors to discover fashion in the artworks of painter Joaquín Sorolla.
Born in 1863 in Valencia, Spain, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida received his art education first in his native town and then under several teachers. At eighteen he travelled to Madrid and studied the paintings in the Museo del Prado; a grant allowed him to move to Rome to continue his studies and a trip to Paris introduced him to modern painting.
In 1888 he returned to Valencia where he married Clotilde García del Castillo, who came from a prosperous, middle-class background that reflected the status achieved by her father - photographer Antonio García Peris.
In 1890, they moved to Madrid, where Sorolla painted orientalist, mythological, historical, and social subjects. The artist finally achieved success with "Another Marguerite" (1892): based on an incident he witnessed on a third-class railway carriage between Madrid and Valencia, the painting shows two civil guards accompanying a female prisoner who was being brought to justice. The work was awarded a gold medal at the National Exhibition in Madrid and first prize at the Chicago International Exhibition.
The artist soon became known as the head of the modern Spanish school of painting: he excelled in portraits, landscapes and monumental works of social and historical themes.
Among his most famous works linking art and science there are for example "Portrait of Dr. Simarro at the microscope" and "A Research", while he continued to explore issues revolving around science and social themes with "Sad Inheritance" (1899), depicting children left crippled by a polio epidemic that struck Valencia a few years earlier, bathing at the sea under the supervision of a monk.
In more recent years his works were often exhibited together with John Singer Sargent's paintings with whom he shared an impressionist style.
"Sorolla and Fashion" brings together paintings on loan from Spanish and international museums and private collections (some never previously shown in public), together with an important group of clothes and accessories of the period.
Sorolla is known as the painter of light: the sunlight has indeed got a major role in his works and he often painted en plein air, but his interest in depicting the details of his subjects' clothes and dresses meant that he accidentally became a sort of chronicler of the trends and styles from the late 19th to the early 20th century.
The exhibition pays particular attention to Sorolla's female portraits painted between 1890 and 1920, which establish a dialogue in the galleries with items of clothing of the period, following a thematic route presented in four sections - "Sorolla at home", "Clothing and its social significance in commissioned portraits", "Elegant summers" and "Paris, the place of modern life".
The first section is devoted to the artist's family circle and focuses on different aspects of his daily life. The influence of Velázquez is clear in one of the paintings included here: "My Family" (1901) is indeed a reference to "Las Meninas" with his wife and children posing in the foreground and the painter reflected, at work, in a distant mirror.
Sorolla's letters to his wife from Paris introduce to visitors his interest in fashion: the painter would indeed write her about new trends and about the dresses that he had bought for her and for their daughters.
Also on display are paintings of family members, particularly of Clotilde, clad in a dove gray ensemble, posing in a black dress or walking in a park in a white dress matched with a black coat accessorised with a voluminous feathered hat.
Among the most striking dresses accompanying these works there are a woman's two-piece costume (ca.1900) from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and a creation by Jean Paquin (1912) from the Museo del Traje, Madrid.
The second section looks instead at the numerous commissions Sorolla received to paint members of the socially elevated classes of his days. Some of these portraits and the clothes in this section follow the latest fashions of the day while others are more classical and thus reflect a type of fashion inspired by the past.
Examples include "Portrait of Mrs Perkins" (1909", compared with a 1897 dress from the collection at Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris, "Mrs Ira Nelson Morris with her Children" (1911; a painting that is clearly influenced by the work of Sorolla's friend John Singer Sargent), juxtaposed to an elaborate dress (ca.1910-15) from the Museo del Traje, and "Mrs Winthrop W. Aldrich" (Harriet Alexander 1888-1972) (1909), shown with a dress by Worth (ca.1896).
"Elegant summers" takes visitors to the seaside: Zarautz, Santander, San Sebastián, the Costa Brava and the beaches of the Levante coastline started to become popular with the earliest Spanish holidaymakers. Fashion is also present in these settings and as a crucial observer of this phenomenon Sorolla masterfully conveyed it in his seaside portraits such as "Clotilde on the Beach" (1904) exhibited alongside a day dress (1904-08) from the Victoria and Albert Museum, and "Under the Awning, Zarautz" (1910) on display next to a white blouse and skirt (ca. 1900) fom the Centre de Documentació i Museu Tèxtil, Terrassa.
The section about Paris focuses instead on cafés, city boulevards, cinemas, theatres and opera houses, locations that attracted Sorolla's attention. In these places he would also be exposed to Haute Couture or to new trends: his daughter Elena appears in this section wearing one of Fortuny's legendary designs in a bright shade of yellow that evokes Sorolla's beloved sunlight and that's obviously juxtaposed to a blue Delphos by Mariano Fortuny. There is actually another Fortuny design in the exhibition - the pleated blue silk taffeta blouse worn by Clotilde in a miniature painted in gouache by the American artist Martha Susan Baker (1871-1911).
The Sorolla and the Thyssen museums will showcase different works along the same themes for a total of 72 paintings and 60 items of clothing, plus photographs, sketches and letters, documents that feature many references to different aspects of dress.
There are two reasons that make this double event intriguing: first of all, it is a major collaboration with several collections and museums all over the world that provided the costumes that can be compared to the works of art; second, it is a way to invite younger audiences to get to know a painter. And if this event will manage to turn a few impenitent fashionistas into refined "sorollistas", well, it will already be some sort of victory for the curators.