The year of 1908 marked the first time Londoners set eyes on Javea.

In an age where aeroplanes were still learning how to fly, and photographs still in development, the meeting inevitably came through the paintbrush.

But the exhibition at Grafton Galleries through May, June and July weren’t just any old paintings of Javea.

The posters put Javea’s name next to that of Joaquin Sorolla, calling him ‘the world’s greatest living painter’ following international success.

Sorolla, born in Valencia in 1863, fell in love with the Costa Blanca fishing town of Javea during a visit in 1896.

“Javea is sublime, immense, the best I know to paint. It surpasses everything,” he wrote in one of more than 2,000 letters kept by his wife, Clotilde.

Sorolla’s obsession with the play of light and water in Javea saw the town make up a large part of the 278 paintings he took to London in search of fortune.

Among these paintings include Cabo de San Antonio, Javea that captured the site of Javea’s iconic headland back in 1896.

There was also Cordelores de Javea, Nadadores de Javea, El puerto de Javea, A child in Javea and countless others referencing the seafaring, sea-loving and golden-coloured moments Sorolla encountered.

One of Sorolla’s most famous paintings known to have sold was Encajonando pasas from 1900, showing hundreds of women in Javea packaging raisins for an international trade of which Britain was one of Denia ports’ largest customers.

Images: WikiMedia Commons.

“I hate cities, viva Javea”

While London may have fallen in love with Javea and Sorolla at the exhibition, the opposite never happened.

Sorolla was disappointed with his sales in London.

He complained about the cold air, he complained about being lonely, and he feared the ‘polite’ upper-class English were too cerebral to appreciate his masterpieces of light and fresh air.

Worst of all, Sorolla sold few paintings in London in 1908.

“I feel old, I can’t live alone, I’m emptier than you for you at least have the children,” he wrote to Clotilde.

“Today is a disgusting day, I’ve only just had my lunch with electric light and it’s already 2pm – I hate big cities, viva Javea.”

England later proved to be Sorolla’s lucky ticket, however, as it was there he met American philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington.

Sorolla soon received an invite to exhibit at The Hispanic Society of America in New York, where he sold 195 paintings.

The society later commissioned Sorolla to paint a huge mural called Vision of Spain, that captured the Spanish nation in a series of works taking six years (1913-1919) to complete.

By the time Sorolla was done, he had earned enough money to buy up a house in central Madrid that today displays his works as the Museo Sorolla.

When he died in 1923 Sorolla was already established as one of Spain’s all time greats.

It took another 100 years – until 2019 – for London’s National Gallery to put on a British exhibition of Sorolla (Sorolla: Master of Light).

Except that, this time, Sorolla’s paintings of Javea had already become priceless.

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