When I first became aware of the work of Joachim Sorolla (1863-1923) a few years ago, I was immediately seduced by the Spanish Impressionist’s brilliant use of colors and the optimism his paintings. So much so that on my recent visit to Madrid, the top item on my must-visit list was the Museo Sorolla.

An Artist’s Domain

The living room glass rotunda overlooks the garden.

The Sorolla Museum is located in the house that Sorolla built in the Chamberi neighborhood, then as now one of the most desirable residential areas in Madrid. It was the home in which lived with his wife and eternal muse, Clotilde García del Castillo, and their three children – María Clotilde, Joaquín and Elena, from 1911 until his death in 1923. The mansion and all its contents were bequeathed in 1925 by his widow to the Spanish government,  for the specific purpose to make it a museum to the memory of her husband and his work.

The Moorish-inspired gardens were designed by the artist.

Set in luxuriant Moorish-style gardens of this artist’s own design, the museum has preserved the original atmosphere of Joachim Sorolla’s home and studio. It is filled with the furnitures and objects he acquired throughout his life, which provide precious information about his tastes and working environment. But its main attraction, of course, is the richest collection of Sorolla’s works anywhere, in all their irresistible luminosity and buoyant atmosphere.

An Andalusian Patio

A traditional blue and white Azulejos fountain is the focal point of the Andalusian patio.

On the ground floor, the kitchen and other utility rooms open onto a lush Andalusian patio surrounded by three arcades, their arches supported by slender pillars. In the center, an octagonal fountain is covered with traditional blue and white Azulerjos (ceramic tiles). The ensemble is reminiscent of the Alhambra in Grenada and the Royal Alcazar in Seville . The same elements are found in some of the paintings of gardens Sorolla made while traveling around Andalusia, The galleries that surround the patio house an impressive display of traditional ceramics, the largest collection of the museum after that of the paintings.

An Artist’s Studio

Self-portrait by the sea. (1909. Oil on canvas).

Sorolla was at the peak of his international success by the time he commissioned noted Madrid architect Enrique María Repullés to design his home and work environment. The artist himself played an active role in every stages of the project, from design to decoration, to ensure that studio and family residence would coexist independently within the same building.  Each zone has its own entrance, with the studios accessed by an independent staircase directly from the garden. This working area is distinguished from the rest of the house by its red walls – the background color used in the museums of the day.

Museo Sorolla – office of the artist.

Its double-height ceilings and natural overhead lighting provide an optimum environment for viewing the works. Today this space is used to showcase the major large format works from Sorolla’s various periods. His adjoining office was used to receive clients and exhibit works both for sale or as a reference for future commissions. Today it is mainly dedicated to display family portraits.

Major paintings hang in the studio exactly where they did in the painter’s lifetime.

Then we reach one of the most spectacular working studio anywhere. This is where Sorolla painted portraits or put finishing touches to his vivid sea and landscapes, which he always painted in nature. Today, nature remains the main focus of this studio space, with the exception of a few portraits, three of which are exceptional, large beach paintings that hang exactly where they did in the painter’s lifetime.

 

 

A Family Home

The light-filled living room showcases some Sorolla’s favorite pieces.

From the studio, a small enclosed landing leads to a vast living room bathed in the light from the glass rotunda overlooking the garden. Sorolla conceived the sumptuous decoration of the room, from its marble floor to the harmoniously combined antique and period-style furnitures. He included a number of life-size portraits of his wife and children, and a gallery of busts by his friends Mariano Benlliure and José Capuz. A variety of other sculptures are also displayed here, ranging from two 16th century polychrome wooden pieces and a reproduction of a Pompeian statue to pieces by his daughter Elena.

The dining room is decorated with garlands by the artist.

The dining room is remarkable for its eclectic decor. Here the white marble-paneled walls are topped by an exuberant garland, painted by Sorolla in the style of a classical freeze combining laurels and fruits with portraits of his wife and daughters, who seem busy decorating the room.

 

 

Painters are welcome in Sorolla’s gardens.

The visit concludes in the artist’s exuberant gardens filled with Moorish accents. In one corner, a marble vasque fountain gurgles in front of an Azulejos-covered bench evokative of the Seville Royal Alcazar gardens. Farther  on,  a channel fountain typical of the  Generalite transports visitors to Granada. This is a secluded haven in the heart of the city,  the idea retreat to relax, entertain or paint. 

With its unique collection of Sorolla’s works presented within the context of his creative and family life, the Sorolla Museum is undoubtably one of the most complete and best preserved artist’s house in Europe.

The artist’s brushes and painting tools are displayed in the studio..

Good to Know

  • The Museo Sorolla, Paseo del General Martinez Campos, Madrid, is open year-round Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm, Sunday and public holidays from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, and closed every Monday, January 1 and 6, May 1, November 9 and December 24, 25 and 31. Contact: tel. (+34) 91 310 15 84 and e-mail .

Location, location, location!

Museo Sorolla