December 09, 2011

Joaquín Sorolla and the Glory of Spanish Dress

In 1911, the Valencian painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923) was commissioned by The Hispanic Society of America in New York to create a series of oils on the subject of life in Spain. The project was completed in 1919 and "Vision of Spain" was installed and opened to the public in 1926 comprising 227 linear feet of murals, fourteen panels in all. Originally planned to depict the history of Spain, Sorolla shifted the theme toward the culture of the country, a celebration of each region and its particular traditions in custom, landscape and dress. The result was a snapshot of the entire Iberian Peninsula from Basque fishermen to Andalusian flamenco dancers and the climax of Sorolla's career.

Recently opened at the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute on Park Avenue at 69th Street is a wonderful exhibition celebrating both the genius of Joaquín Sorolla and the rich tradition of Spanish costume and culture. "Joaquín Sorolla and the Glory of Spanish Dress" was conceived by fashion designer extraordinaire Oscar de la Renta, chairman of the Institute's Board of Directors, with Vogue Magazine's André Leon Tally acting as curator. With generous loans from Madrid's Museo del Traje and Museo Sorolla as well as from private collections, this exhibition presents a remarkable combination of costume and art on equal footing and is a visually stunning travelogue of the regions of Spain.

Over thirty mannequins display vintage ensembles including a sumptuous silk brocade and gold-embroidered tulle Valencian evening gown, a humble wool felt shepherd's costume from Extremadura, an exuberantly decorated wedding gown complete with copious amounts of authentic jewelry from Castile-La Mancha, elegant riding habits, saucy flamenco dresses, and the star of the show, lavishly embellished traje de luces, suit of lights, created for the bravest of matadors. But the best part of the show is not just the marvelous ensembles, it's the original Sorolla sketches and paintings from the "Vision of Spain" series that are hanging next to the vitrines. One can see exactly what the artist envisioned when he traveled the country, soaking up the specialties and traditions of each region, before committing his observations to canvas.

What is also very interesting about this exhibition is the gallery devoted to modern fashion design and how couturiers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix, Ralph Lauren, Karl Lagerfeld and Carolina Herrera have been influenced by traditional Spanish clothing. The Infanta, flamenco dancer, toreador and other 19th Century styles have been elegantly re-interpreted for today's woman and leave no doubt as to the enduring impact of Spanish flair on the world of style.

I fell in love with Sorolla's paintings several years ago at a wonderful exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris entitled "John Singer Sargent and Joaquín Sorolla: Painters of Light". The murals prepared for the "Vision of Spain" series are more illustrative than his portraits but still clearly show Sorolla's sweeping style and ability to capture the dignity and grandeur of even simple subjects. This exhibition is an homage to the cultural diversity of Spain and a marvelous celebration of its diverse tradition and culture. "Joaquín Sorolla and the Glory of Spanish Dress" is on view until the 10th of March, 2012.

Joaquín Sorolla "Harvest, Jerez", 1914

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