Joaquin Sorolla’s work and his Madrid home

By Geri Dreiling

A century ago, the New York Times dubbed Joaquin Sorolla “the Spanish painter of sunlight and color.” The year was 1909. The occasion was his New York exhibition. In a much later article about Sorolla written in 2012, the New York Times noted that during that turn-of-the-century exhibition over 169,000 art lovers ventured out in cold, icy February weather and endured long lines to see his work.

I didn’t discover Sorolla until my recent trips to Madrid. Now he sits atop my list of my favorite painters. It isn’t just his use of sunlight and color that draws me into his work. I’m captivated by the way he is able to depict emotions, connections and bonds between people. Some of the works were so moving that I couldn’t help but get misty-eyed. 

There is a delightful gem in Madrid – the Sorolla Museum — where you can see many of his works. It is also the home where he lived with his beloved wife and muse, Clotilde. And it is the site of the gardens that he designed and then painted. 

Sorolla Children in the Sea Valencia 1908

Children in the Sea, Valencia Beach, 1908, Sorolla

Sorolla was born in Valencia in 1865. With the help of scholarships, he studied in Rome and Paris. In Spain, he was commissioned to paint royal portraits. His work took him to the Spanish region of Andalusia and he spent time painting in Granada, the location of the Islamic palace, Alhambra. Like most painters, his work evolved over time and his travels had an impact on his art.

But his personal life also played an important role in his art. He married Clotilde Perez in 1888. He had met her in 1879 while working in her photographer-father’s studio. His wife was his muse, model and even kept track of the accounts. She appeared in his works throughout their lifetime together. She also kept all of the letters that he penned to her. In one, Sorolla wrote (translated text):

“I’ve already told you my life for today, it’s monotonous, but what can I do, I always tell you the same, painting, and loving you, that’s all. Do you think that isn’t enough?”

And in another letter to his wife, he said:

“I’m limping along, I lack your serene judgment and your passionate kisses. God willing we will eventually make these artistic trips always together.”

Clotilde on the Beach Sorolla

Clotilde on the Beach, Sorolla, 1904


Clotilde and Elena on the Rocks, Sorolla

Clotilde and Elena on the Rocks. Sorolla

The professional and personal were intertwined even more tightly in 1911. That was the year the family moved into a home with a studio that was surrounded by the gardens that Sorolla designed. The area is sprinkled with fountains and ponds. Sculptures intermingle with rose bushes, green shrubs and an orange tree. The walkways and steps are adorned with decorative blue tile. 

The Yellow Rose Bush of the Sorolla House, Joaquin Sorolla

The Yellow Rose Bush of the Sorolla House, Sorolla, 1920

In 1920, Sorolla suffered a heart attack while painting in the garden. After he died in 1923, his wife donated many of his paintings to the Spanish public. In 1932, his studio-residence was opened as Museo Sorolla.

When I traveled to Spain in January, E suggested a visit to the Sorolla Museum.

He toured the home for the first time as a schoolboy — but it was his grandfather who originally introduced him to the painter. E’s grandfather loved books and one of the works in his home library was a volume of Sorolla’s paintings. Sitting side-by-side on the sofa, grandfather and grandson would flip through the pages together and E’s grandfather would point out some his favorites. The art lessons made a lasting impression on the young boy. It was that introduction that sparked E’s love for Sorolla’s paintings. 

Even after many years and the passing of his grandfather, E still had a special fondness for Sorolla. He thought it might be a place I’d enjoy.

He was absolutely right.

Sorolla Museum entrance in Madrid

Sorolla Museum entrance, Madrid

To get your ticket to the Museo Sorolla, you must enter through the gardens. There was something about the space, even in winter that felt both serene and creatively vibrant.  It was a place where I imagined sitting with my laptop and writing. And if it was too cold to sit outside, I would happily place a desk near a window overlooking the garden. 

Sorolla Museum gardens

Gardens at the Sorolla Museum


Sorolla Museum Gardens and Pond

A pond in the Sorolla Museum gardens


Sorolla Museum studio entrance

Studio entrance into the Sorolla Museum

Still daydreaming about writing in Sorolla’s garden, I entered his studio, filled with his works from various periods during his life. Visitors are allowed to take photos so long as they don’t use the flash. I began taking pictures but eventually stopped because it seemed that I was photographing every single painting I viewed. Putting down my camera also gave me more time to fully appreciate each artistic work. 

The studio tour then leads into house. Although there are elements of a traditional 1911 home such as a large grand staircase, the home is also notable for its light. Three interior cutouts above an alcove struck me as rather modern as well as a window above the stairway landing that peers into the studio.

Alcove in the Sorolla home

An alcove in the Sorolla home


Sorolla home staircase

The staircase in the Sorolla home

We visited on a Sunday afternoon. The price of admission is three euros but on Sundays, it is free. If you’re planning to visit the Sorolla Museum, please note that it is closed on Monday. From Tuesday to Saturday, it is open from 9:30 am to 8 pm. On Sundays, the hours are 10 am to 3 pm.

The Museo Sorolla is now on my list of places to revisit. I would love to experience the gardens during different seasons. I feel like I need another opportunity to view all of his works.

And the romantic part of me wants to learn more about the love affair between the man and his muse.

Joaquin Sorolla self portrait

Self portrait of Sorolla