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Kissing the Relic

Joaquín Sorolla

Valencia, 1863-Cercedilla, Madrid, 1923

Kissing the Relic

Oil on canvas

103.5 x 125.5 cm


Contributed by the City Council of Bilbao in 1913

Joaquín Sorolla’s artistic beginnings are connected to the academicism prevailing in Spain in the late nineteenth century. In 1879 he trained at the Academy of San Carlos in Valencia and from there moved to Madrid in 1881, where he discovered the oeuvre of Velázquez, which made a deep impression on him. Having obtained a grant he was able to settle in Rome during the first months of 1885, and subsequently moved to Paris, where he would be greatly influenced by the artistic avant-garde. During the decade of 1890 he produced genre paintings and works that focused on social criticism, followed by experiments based on the predominance of flat light that distanced him from Impressionist painters and earned him international acclaim, especially with his beach scenes. Sorolla’s career was confirmed in Madrid, where he settled in 1890. Kissing the Relic belongs to a period in which his own personal style was beginning to evolve, bringing together his past experience and achieving notable successes: a third-class medal at the Parisian Salon, the same distinction at the 4th International Salon in Vienna in 1894 and then a first medal at the Exhibition of Spanish Art in Bilbao. During this period Sorolla based his compositions on his skill as a draughtsman, his meticulous descriptions and wise use of light and colour in genre scenes (some of them anecdotal) connected to bourgeois taste. In this work a procession of faithful is reverently awaiting to kiss the relic held by the parish priest in a side chapel of the San Pablo church in Valencia. This act of veneration marks the end of the mass and is the opportunity taken by an altar boy to sell religious pictures—the scene is therefore a fine example of genre painting. [J.N.G]