Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida
(Valencia, Spain, 1863 - 1923, Madrid, Spain)
Oil on canvas
24 1/2 x 36 1/2 in. (62.2 x 92.7 cm)
Century: 20th Century
Credit Line: Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum purchase, The Meadows Foundation Fund with private donations, MM.03.01
Listen to Meadows Museum docent Linda Ferguson discuss this work (3:01 minutes)
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923)
The Blind Man of Toledo, 1906
by Linda Ferguson, Meadows Museum docent
To gaze upon this painting is like taking a deep breath of fresh air. Sorolla painted it on his very first trip to Toledo, and it was probably fresh air to him too. Yet he knew that centuries earlier El Greco had immortalized this view in several paintings. Intentionally or not, Sorolla put himself into the El Greco tradition by painting the scene. But, thoroughly modern Sorolla instead focused on one person from the city.
The first thing that strikes viewers is the colors, which are vivid, unusual, and boldly applied with the bravura brushstrokes Sorolla often used. In the center of the painting, we have the blue of the sky-reflecting Tajo River juxtaposed with the yellowish Roman bridge of Alcántara.
The arched bridge divides the painting horizontally. Above is the background landscape: a few buildings, a forested area, low hills with green fields. Behind them at the very top is a slice of dark gray sky, perhaps from a receding storm.
In front of the bridge, in the lower half of the work, is the living element. In the middle ground, animals are coming out of the left lower gate, and nearby a cart is being pulled uphill by a mule. And in the foreground is the blind man himself, wearing a Castilian peasant cloak and slouch hat, inching uphill by a wall, with his stick in front of him.
Notice now how the perspective lines converge on the man. The sides of the road, the horizontal bridge, and the diagonal top of the wall take the viewer’s eye directly to his dark, vertical shape. He is alone and a bit mysterious, with the brim of his hat shadowing his eyes, and alone. Unlike us, he can see none of this. Not the glorious city nor the vibrant landscape, nor the artist painting presumably a few steps in front of him. At least the man can hear the cart and mule and the other animals. He can probably hear the rushing water of the mill race below him in that section of the river. The very idea of blindness is strongly juxtaposed with this wonderfully colorful depicted scene.
By the way, to more fully appreciate Sorolla’s impressionistic mastery, try studying the picture from about two feet away and then maybe ten feet away. Up close, the animals emerging from the gateway are just squiggly lines. But from further away those lines click into focus as animals and the cart and mule. Again up close, study the colors he used in the wall near the blind man. You will note gold, orange, lavender, magenta, brown, even a bit of blue in the shadows. But from further away they merge into an unusually luminous, weathered wall. The more you study this masterpiece, the more you will find to like and understand.