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Sorolla and Galdós

This display cabinet is part of the cultural program MADRID OTRA MIRADA from the Madrid City Council which aims to bring visitors closer to the city’s heritage. This year in particular is dedicated to Benito Pérez Galdós on the occasion of the centenary of his death.

The Museum Sorolla preserves documents and artworks that confirm that both Benito Pérez Galdós and Joaquín Sorolla met and maintained a relationship of mutual respect and admiration.

Vitrina sobre la relación entre Sorolla y Galdós

Both artists have a lot in common. The most significant aspect that both Galdós and Sorolla shared was their dedication and absolute devotion vis à vis their work. This is very much reflected in the words that Ricardo Gullón writes about Galdós and which can apply to Sorolla as well: “He mastered his craft like only those with extraordinary vocation, will, and love for the well-executed work can.” Both men aspired to make a living from their work as writer and painter, respectively.

Another aspect in common worth highlighting is that both of them started to develop their artistic skills at a very young age. From the beginning, Galdós is outstanding at school with his written texts and starts to collaborate with local and school newspapers. Simultaneously, Sorolla shows his inclination for painting and soon starts to receive classes at the Escuela de Artesanos de Valencia (in English, The School of Craftsmen of Valencia).

Another similarity is that after leaving their respective natal towns, both settled in Madrid in order to pursue their artistic careers. However, they do not do it with the same intention: while Galdós comes to Madrid in 1862 in order to pursue studies in Law, he finally dedicates himself to Literature. In the meantime, Sorolla starts his artistic studies in Valencia and after a series different trips to Madrid in order to visit el Museo del Prado and to participate in National Exhibitions, together with trip to Rome with a grant from the Diputación de Valencia, he finally chooses to settle in Madrid in 1889.

Regarding Galdós, we can say that he forayed into the field of art due to the fact that he felt a precocious inclination towards drawing and painting aimed at criticism and caricature, something he would carry forever in his writing career. However, Sorolla did not make any attempt at the world of literature but given his extensive correspondence, we may say that he was well versed in the epistolary genre.

Another aspect shared by both artists is the prominence of social class as a subject-matter in their work. Sorolla was the leading portraitist of his time, but he also depicted other more humble and disadvantaged classes, like fishermen. Simultaneously, Galdós is one of the leading figures in the 19th century Spanish Realist Literature, and as such, he portrayed the Madrid of its time with all its social classes.

Sorolla portrayed Galdós in two different occasions.

From the portrait Sorolla executed in 1911 for the Gallery of portraits of the Hispanic Society, we nowadays preserve a photograph made by Frederick O.Bemm (inventory number 81913). O.Bemm was a photographer who made a report based on the Exhibition by Joaquín Sorolla in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1911.

Picture of the Portrait of Mr.Benito Pérez Galdós painted by Sorolla in 1911 Pulse para ampliar Frederick O.Bemm. Portrait of Mr.Benito Pérez Galdós, 1911. Sorolla Museum, inventory number 81913.
Portrait of Mr. Benito Pérez Galdós, standing up, elegantly dress in black, with a white scarf around his neck and seizing a cane Pulse para ampliar Joaquín Sorolla Bastida. Portrait of Mr. Benito Pérez Galdós, 1911. Hispanic Society of New York.

In the Museum we nowadays preserve correspondence from Galdós to Sorolla related to the appointment that both were trying to make in order to execute Sorolla’s portrait. At that time, Galdós was writing Amadeo Ist so it was difficult for them to fix it. It is not the writer’s handwriting, it was probably written by his secretary because he was suffering from vision loss and someone had to dictate his written works from 1910.The letters that Galdós wrote to Sorolla are nowadays preserved at the Museum House of Pérez Galdós in Las Palmas.

A few years earlier, in 1894, Sorolla executed another portrait. This became quite well-known as it was used for the minting of a 1.000 pesetas banknote. This portrait belonged to Galdós himself and is nowadays preserved at his House-Museum in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Joaquín Sorolla Bastida. Portrait of Benito Pérez Galdós, 1894. He is seated, with a cigarette in his right hand and a cane in his left Pulse para ampliar Joaquín Sorolla Bastida. Portrait of Benito Pérez Galdós, 1894. House-Museum Pérez Galdós.
1000 Pesetas Banknote with the portrait of Galdós Pulse para ampliar 1000 Pesetas Banknote. Requena Collection.

Just like Galdós, Sorolla also appeared in a 1000 pesetas banknote. Printed for the first time in 1951, the reverse of the banknote shows the panel of Valencia which Sorolla executed for the Hispanic Society in New York.

Not only did Sorolla paint Galdós, in fact Galdós also wrote about Sorolla. He wrote press articles consisting on literary, artistic and theatrical reviews… On the Argentinian press in Buenos Aires, he writes about the National Exhibitions of 1884 and 1887 in which Sorolla participated. Relating to 2 de mayo (in English, the 2nd of May) and Cabeza de Viejo (in English, An Old Person’s Head) he claims that these: “announce an excellent artist”. About El entierro de Cristo (in English, The Burial of Christ) he says: “it deserved the first or at least the second medal. Everybody was surprised about the fact that he did not obtain any prize.”

Not only did Galdós possess an artwork of Sorolla (the portrait in 1894), the artist also possessed books by the writer. In the library of the Sorolla Museum we nowadays preserve a series of copies such as: Ángel Guerra, Nazarín and several of its Episodios Nacionales, including Los apostólicos. Un faccioso más y algunos frailes menos (sign. G-540). This copy belongs to the illustrated edition of the Episodios Nacionales from 1882 in which artists like Arturo Mélida and Aureliano Berruete among others also participated.

Two snakes wound forming a kind of ring Pulse para ampliar Detail of the engraving "Los apostólicos. Un faccioso más y algunos frailes menos" by Benito Pérez Galdós. Sorolla Museum, sign. G-540.

Some of them are even dedicated by the author to Sorolla himself, like the copy of the Nazarín (sign. FA 762) (5) in which one can read: “Al gran artista J. Sorolla su buen amigo y admirador B. Pérez Galdós” (in English: “To The great artist J.Sorolla from his good friend and admirer B.Pérez Galdós”).

Benito Pérez Galdós' dedication. Nazarín. Sorolla Museum, sign. FA 762. Pulse para ampliar Benito Pérez Galdós' dedication. Nazarín. Sorolla Museum, sign. FA 762.

In these books we also find a stamp of the motto which guided Galdós’ work: Ars, Natura, Veritas.This motto is specific to Galdós’ work.

He designed it together with his friend and engraver Arturo Mélida. For the illustrated version of the Episodios Nacionales, he used the first of them where the motto is framed by an Egiptian sphinx. This motto will from now onwards appear on the products by La Guirnalda.

In 1897 he wanted to mark a new professional stage as he regained ownership of his works. He then made a modification of the old stamp with Mélida. Now the motto appears around a Green sphinx. The engraver’s signature appears on both. A couple of years later when he opened his own publishing house on Hortaleza street in 1902, he wanted to mark the new change with a new label but Mélida died so it was not possible to do so.

Egyptian sphynx with winds seated on a sphere Pulse para ampliar Motto by Benito Pérez Galdós in 1882.
Female sphynx seated on a sphere Pulse para ampliar Motto by Benito Pérez Galdós in 1897

Sorolla and Galdós kept a close relationship which allowed them to ask each other for favors in several occasions.

Galdós writes to Sorolla (inventory number CS4600) introducing him to a friend, Boris de Tannenberg (A French critic and Hispanist from Russia) who wishes to visit Sorolla’s studio in the company of two foreign gentlemen.

Benito Pérez Galdós to Joaquín Letter from Sorolla Bastida, 5th April 1904. Pulse para ampliar Benito Pérez Galdós to Joaquín Sorolla Bastida, 5th April 1904. Sorolla Museum, inventory number CS46000.

Sorolla will also ask Galdós to sign a copy of his book Electra in order to send it to his friend Pedro Gil, “an admirer of Yours who lives in Paris and whom I love as if he was my brother”, nowadays preserved at the Museum House Pérez Galdós. The archive of the Sorolla Museum preserves a letter from Pedro Gil to Sorolla, thanking him for the book he has received and telling him that he will read during his trip to Barcelona since he has needs to leave in a couple of days (inventory number CS2104).

Letter from Pedro Gil Moreno de Mora to Joaquín Sorolla Bastida, 12th March 1901. Pulse para ampliar Pedro Gil Moreno de Mora to Joaquín Sorolla Bastida, 12th March 1901. Sorolla Museum, inventory number CS2104

This play was released for the first time on the 30th of January 1901, at the Teatro Español. The day before a general rehearsal was organized to which the leading intellectual figures of the time were invited, including Sorolla.

The play deals with the story Electra, a young orphan of unknown father, who was rescued by a rich and merciful aunt and uncle after having lived her first years of life with her mother and spent the following years with the nuns and a number of relatives. Each in their own way, everyone in the aunt and uncle’s entourage seeks to save young Electra. This is especially true for a churchman who considers retreat in a convent to be the only means to Electra’s redemption, and who attempts to separate her from the man who loves her. This man had opened the girl up to the worlds of science and love.

The plot was related to a case that was taking place at the time the play was being written: The underage Adelaida Ubao, who had ran away from her home one night after being groomed by a Jesuit to become a nun without her family’s consent. The Jesuit’s motive was to ensure Adelaida’s inheritance would be thereby destined to the Church. The family’s lawyer based his defense on the grounds that the Jesuit had planted discord between the Ubao family and the Church. He used as proof two letters that the young Adelaida had sent to said Jesuit in which she confessed to being in love and revealed doubts as to her religious vocation. The verdict against the clerics arrived in February of that same year.

The Uboa case had a significant repercussion on Spanish society at the time, bringing into conflict those who were in favour of the Church against those who opposed it.

Hence, whilst Galdós was much congratulated for the play, he also received anonymous threats and was the target of a terrorist attack against him which he gladly emerged from uninjured. Sorolla talks about this attack in a letter to Pedro Gil which is preserved in this Museum: “last night a strong explosive blew up the windows at Galdos’ house.”

Both artists were praised for their respective work.

In fact, in 1895, Galdós is recognized with the Cruz de Carlos III (in English: Cross of Charles III) (inventory number 20278) as well as the Cruz de Caballero de la Orden de Isabel la Católica (in English: Cross of the Knight of Isabella the Catholic Order) (inventory number 20279). Later in 1899, Sorolla receives the same recognition, awarding both figures for their work and contribution to the Spanish heritage. Two awards and the accreditation for one of them can be found among the documents preserved at the Museum.

Condecoración Orden de Carlos III Pulse para ampliar Condecoración Orden de Carlos III. Museo Sorolla, nº inv. 20278.
Condecoración Orden de Isabel la Católica Pulse para ampliar Condecoración Orden de Isabel la Católica. Museo Sorolla, nº inv. 20279.

Apart from recognitions, both figures were honored and both participated on each other’s tribute. Indeed, Galdós participated very closely in the tribute that was made to Sorolla in 1901. He sat next to Sorolla at the presidential table and delivered a speech.

Simultaneously, in 1916, Sorolla was asked to collaborate in the tribute made to Galdós in the society “El sitio”, located in Bilbao. In addition, Sorolla was specifically asked to emit some comments on Galdós work as part of an album which contained different reviews from the most significant cultural figures of the era.

Both men participated in the design of their homes; Galdós in his San Quintín house in Santander, and Sorolla in the house that is now the Museum bearing his name. This coincidence did not take place simultaneously: Galdós inaugurated the house in San Quintín in 1893, whereas the Sorolla family move into what is now the Museum Sorolla in 1911.

Galdós directed his commissioned architect’s pencil to draw the continent and the content of what would be his house. He would eventually be especially proud of his vegetable garden, containing decorative plants, herbs, fruit trees, vegetable plants… from the Santander region as well as exemplars he brought back from his travels or some he received as presents. In Galdós’ house we find the leitmotif of the towers, also present in his literary work.

Sorolla’s implication in the design and building of his house cannot be understated, especially in the gardens. The Museum preserves studies that the artist did for the design of said gardens. Like Galdós’, Sorolla’s gardens mixed autochtonous plants with plants he brought from his travels and plants he was gifted by friends.

Both men coincided in artistic social gatherings. Among said gatherings stood out Valencian get-togethers organized by Emilio Sala, José M. Fenollera, or Joaquín Sorolla himself. The doctor Luis Simarro and the also painter Aureliano de Beruete were frequent attendees of the Valencian gatherings.

To conclude these brief notes, we can highlight the following words from their correspondence and which indicate the mutual admiration that both felt for each other:

De V. siempre ferviente admirador y amigo” (In English: “From your fervent admirer and friend”) by Galdós, inventory number CS4602.

Un abrazo de su viejo admirador y amigo” (In English: “Greetings from your old admirer and friend”) by Sorolla, and currently preserved at the House-Museum Pérez Galdós.

Carta de Benito Pérez Galdós a Joaquín Sorolla Bastida, 1910. Pulse para ampliar Benito Pérez Galdós a Joaquín Sorolla Bastida, 1910. Museo Sorolla, nº inv. CS4602.
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