I came across this stunning painting the other day titled La Chula by María Sorolla:
At first glance, I assumed it was by THE Sorolla. But turns out it was by one of his daughters, María. I went down a few rabbit holes regarding her life and work, but I’ll save that for another day. I’ll focus on the painting for now.
It’s a high-key painting, meaning all the colors are around the light end of the value scale. This is high-key painting at its best, where the colors almost appear to shimmer.
Here’s a grayscale of the painting. Notice how flat it appears without color. We can still make out the subject, but it certainly lacks contrast. This tells us that hue and saturation are doing most of the heavy lifting and value is playing more of a secondary role.
The subject’s hair and facial features act as dark accents and help anchor the painting. They make the surrounding colors appear lighter by comparison. They also focus our attention on the subject’s face (our eyes are drawn to contrast).
The color theme is pleasant and analogous, with various green, blue, and purple tones. The red lips give a dash of warmth. The lights are also warm in relation to the shadows, which plays into the idea that she’s bathed in sunlight, perhaps outside in her garden.
I’m not sure who the subject is. I couldn’t find much information about the painting. She looks off to the side with a vacant stare. Although she’s the focal point of the painting, it doesn’t seem like she knows it.
I always find paintings like this with open-ended questions to be fascinating. Who is she? What’s she pondering? Why is she so well dressed? Where is she? It reminds me of Frederick McCubbin’s painting, The Pioneer, which leaves you questioning who the person is in the final section of the triptych. A good lesson here is that you don’t need to answer every question for the viewer. It can be good to leave them with a hint of curiosity.
Anyway, I’ll send another email when I get a chance about those rabbit holes I mentioned earlier.
Until then, happy painting!
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