Joaquín Sorolla Plein Air Exhibit In Rome

In early spring of 2023, I was in Rome for a few days and was thrilled to discover that a show of Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida plein air paintings was on. The show dates are March 21 to June 11, 2023, at the Real Academia de España in Rome (exhibit webpage).

Plein air (French) means “open air”, and refers to the act of creating paintings on site directly from life.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida was a Spanish painter who painted portraits, landscapes, and monumental works. His work is typically a color charged representation of figures and landscape under the bright sunlight of Spain.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida Painting with his Pochade box.

The show is titled , Joaquín Sorolla, destellos de luz y color” or “Flashes of light and Color.” The show consists of mostly small color studies that Sorolla painted on location using a small paint (pochade) box, as pictured above. Sorolla did almost 2000 of these small “color notes.”

To make these small color studies, Sorolla used a pochade box, which is a portable painting box used by artists, particularly those who work en plein air (outdoors). You can see in the photograph below Sorolla’s pochade box system, including the actual paint box, a small storage box to hold wet paintings and his a brush cleaning jar.

There were a few displays with memorabilia, but one of them had one of Sorollas small painting boxes (often called a pochade box), a carrying case for small paintings and brush cleaner.

The word “pochade” originates from the French word “pocher,” which means to sketch or rough out.

A typical pochade box looks like a wooden cigar box, with a hinged lid that is used to attach a panel to. The interior of the box usually has compartments for storing paint tubes, brushes, and sometimes slots for paintings, as in my older openboxm brand box seen below.

A clearer view of a (my) Pochade box.

I’m not sure if Sorolla exhibited the small paintings during his lifetime, but it wasn’t common to exhibit small studies during these years. Most artists of this time considered them studies for larger works.

Of course that’s completely changed. Nowadays, artists regularly exhibit small studies as finished works of art.

One of my drawing teachers, the late, great Deane Keller at the Lyme Academy, once suggested to me that the problem with the modern painters is that we present the studies as finished paintings. But I think it’s always difficult to impose the sensibilities of a different time on the past, or vice versa.

The show literature posits that there are about 200 objects. Some of these are photos or documents. There were three rooms on the first floor, and a fourth room on the second floor that a guard would take a group of people up to every 1/2 hour or so..

I ended up with about 70 photos which I think was almost all the paintings. Unfortunately, I only had an older iPhone with me. But I spent a whole day editing the photos for clarity and distortion (you’re welcome!).

The largest of the paintings was perhaps 9 x 12″ or 24 x 30 cm. But most of the works were much smaller. I would definitely say that the paintings looked far better in person than on a screen. They absolutely blew me away when I was in their presence.

La Real Academia de España en Roma is similar to American Academy in Rome, in that it serves as a residency for Spanish artists and brings Spanish art and culture to Rome. It’s not common knowledge to North Americans, but a few hundred years ago, Spain controlled large parts of southern Italy, what was called the Kingdom of Naples and Aragon.

The La Real Academia de España in Rome building with its gorgeous studio windows.

If you’re going to the Spanish Academy from the historic center of Rome, it’s a lovely walk across the Ponte Sisto bridge, through Trastevere and finally up some crumbling stairs towards Janiculum Hill. Villa Sciarra is nearby, one of my favorite parks in Rome for sketching. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice many cafés around.

I’m not sure if I would make a special trip to Rome to see the show, but if you’re in the area you should definitely stop by. Previously this show was in Madrid, Bilbao, and Barcelona.

One of the dozen or so frescoes in the courtyard .

Entrance to the building and this show are free. There was an exhibit on Spanish graphic novels while I was there as well. There’s also some interesting fresco cycles and interior architecture.

Unfortunately, there was no catalog available. Believe me, I would’ve brought a suitcase full of them back and resold them at larcenous rates. I believe all the work in the show is from the collection of the Sorolla House Museum in Madrid.

But don’t fret if you miss this show. There’s the wonderful Hispanic Society of America in New York, which has a large cycle of murals by Sorolla as well as some smaller works. And then there’s also the Sorolla house museum in Madrid, which has a magnificent collection of his works as well as being his home and studio.

Below the “read more’ tag, is a large gallery of all the good images I took of the show. Click on any image to get a larger slide show gallery.

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