Joaquín Sorolla and the Glory of Spanish Dress

After the success of Balenciaga: Spanish Master, it should come as no surprise that the Queen Sophia Spanish Institute was enthusiastic to present another exhibition that focuses on clothing.  Joaquín Sorolla and the Glory of Spanish Dress contains a gratifying combination of painting and traditional Spanish attire that simultaneously works to showcase the vision of a talented artist and the richness of Spanish dress.

The exhibition is divided between three floors of the institution.  Beginning at the basement level, the first portion of the show contains the greatest quantity of large paintings, and the bright colors splashed across the walls pick up on the intensity of the hues that are synonymous with the Spanish sun and which pop from areas of Sorolla’s dynamic plein air canvases.   Paintings are juxtaposed with glass cases of costume, many pieces of which, derive from Sorrolla’s private collection–acquired during his travels and in some cases directly from his models– adding a documentary dimension to the exhibition and creating a fascinating interplay between the art and costume on display.

While the paintings are breathtaking on their own, the ability to examine the intricate embellishment that adorns some of these costumes highlights the appeal of Spanish regional dress as a significant part of the Sorolla works on display.  Many of the garments included were worn as a part of custom and ritual, and thus are imbued with layers of symbolism.  The jewelry in particular, was piled atop several of the women’s ensembles, and it was a great decision to include a separate case of jewelry in one area that isolated the individual pieces that comprise the heavy bibs of necklaces seen on the mannequins.  Materials included stones like tourmaline, garnet, coral, and mother of pearl among others.  Each bead, cameo, locket, and amulet seems to tell their own story, often serving auspicious or apotropaic purposes for the wearer such as the corazón de novia or bride’s heart.  Additionally, the multiple layers of jewels and garments were a means of establishing wealth and class while also functioning as a portable asset.

There is also a case of garments that include sumptuous brocaded silk textiles such as a Valencian ensemble from the first half of the 20th century that is referential to 18th century fashion and the robe à l’anglaise.  Among these is a dress that was worn by the Baroness of Alucuás during the floral games of Valencia in 2006.

A 20th century women’s ensemble from Extremadura includes a montehermoso cap, which houses a small circular mirror at the center top of the item.  Single women would wear these mirrored hats that served a functional purpose when they could be utilized to check ones appearance before meeting a potential suitor, simultaneously signaling the marital status of the wearer.  Once married, the mirror is removed.

The show continues on the ground floor of the institution.  A Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga coat from Fall 2006 in the lobby was inspired by Basque fisherman–muses for both Ghesquiere and Sorolla–and ushers viewers into the second room where the archetypes of the Flamenco dancer and the Bullfighter are addressed with splendor.

A 1980s cotton broderie anglaise bata de cola flamenco dress that was designed by Lina, and featured in a Lord Snowdon photograph for Vanity Fair in 1987, worn by Naty Abascal, mirrors the exuberance of Sorolla’s Flamenco Dancer from 1914.  The pairing underscores the integrality of movement to both dance costume and the interplay of light that characterizes Sorolla’s impressionistic work.

There is also a cluster of lavishly embroidered and embellished bullfighter’s ensembles comprised from a range of pieces from the 1920s through 2011 that utilize new montera, bullfighters hats.  The work that goes into the capes in particular is stunning, and even the shocking pink hosiery that swathes the legs of the figures cannot detract from the colorful appeal of these garments.

The topmost floor of the show continues with video footage of Jacqueline Kennedy at Seville’s Feria with the Duchess of Alba in 1966, reproductions of Sorolla’s murals that adorn the walls of the Hispanic Society of America, and a grouping of periodical spreads and mannequins that feature contemporary fashion influenced by traditional Spanish dress.

While I’m never unhappy to come across fashion in a museum exhibition, I must confess that in some ways I felt that the inclusion of the contemporary Spanish-inspired design pieces detracted from the show somewhat for me.  The essence of the exhibition, and the strength of it in my opinion, was the documented relationship between the many garments that were collected by the artist and their significant contribution to his work and ideas about national identity in general.  In some ways, it felt as if the inclusion of items, like a Karl Lagerfeld 2005 dress for Chanel, almost undermined the standalone power that the assemblage of traditional Spanish garments and accessories held on their own.  Understandably, the inclusion of more contemporary fashion demonstrates the prevailing influence of more traditional forms of dress and culture on a more global scale today–while also making the exhibition appealing to a larger demographic–but I found the basic story of Sorrolla’s use and acquisition of Spanish dress as an important tool in his painting to be a compelling enough thesis on its own.  It would have been nice to see it shine without the pervasive hegemony of haute couture intruding on this vision.

With this in mind, some of the contemporary fashion designs on display are particularly wonderful.   There’s a gorgeous Carolina Herrera black velvet gown from Fall 1991 with an asymetrical one-shoulder sleeve and tiers of golden-yellow silk that cascade from one hip with a matching black lace and yellow silk chiffon veil.  There is a Stefano Pilati for Yves Saint Laurent evening suit from Spring 2006 with impeccable tailoring, and the Christain Lacroix wedding ensemble from his Fall 2009 couture show that was inspired by the Virgin del Rocío, the patron saint of Almonte, makes a strong case for a future fashion exhibition that focuses solely on the influence of saints and religious icons on contemporary fashion.  (I would love to see that piece next to a Gaultier! Any takers?)

All in all, Joaquín Sorolla and the Glory of Spanish Dress is a captivating exhibition and I highly recommend devoting an afternoon to viewing the show.  I couldn’t resist picking up a catalog on the spot, which includes essays by Oscar de la Renta, André Leon Talley, Harold Koda from the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mitchell A. Codding, Covadonga Pitarch Angulo from the Museo Sorolla, Irene Seco Serra from the Museo del Traje, and an essay on Spanish regional jewelry by Maria Antonia Herradón FigueroaMolly Sorkin and Jennifer Park are also editors for the catalog, and I strongly suspect, the women behind the informative and illustrated label copy throughout the exhibition.  You can find more on the catalog here.

Joaquín Sorolla and the Glory of Spanish Dress will be on view at the Queen Sophia Spanish Institute through March 10th, 2012.  For more info, please reference their website.

* All images are published in the exhibition catalog Joaquín Sorolla & the Glory of Spanish Dress *




Joaquín Sorolla, Flamenco Dancer, March 20-May 2, 1914

Oil on canvas, 160 x 109 cm

Museo Sorolla, Madrid



Traje de vistas (woman’s festive ensemble) from Castile and León

Early 20th century

Wool, silk, embroidered linen, embroidered cotton

Museo del Traje, CIPE, Madrid

[MT064676, MT064685, MT002409] [MT064402-MT064408]


José Ortiz Echagüe

Charra from La Alberca, c. 1930


Fondo Fotográfico Universidad

de Navarra, Pamplona


Woman’s ensemble from Aragon

Early 20th century

Wool, cotton, linen, silk

Museo del Traje, CIPE, Madrid

[MT018527-MT018530, MT018532, MT018535-MT018537]


Joaquín Sorolla, Characters from the Ansó Valley, 1914

Oil on canvas, 206 x 150.5 cm

Museo Sorolla, Madrid



Woman’s ensemble from Aragon

Early 20th century

Wool, cotton, silk ribbon, metal charms

Museo Sorolla, Madrid



José Ortiz Echagüe

Woman from Montehermoso, 1931


Fondo Fotográfico Universidad

de Navarra, Pamplona


Joaquín Sorolla, Characters from Lagartera or Lagartera Bride,

Spring 1912

Oil on canvas, 200 x 206.5 cm

Musee Sorolla, Madrid



“The Flame in Spain”

Naty Abascal dances Flamenco in her red bate de cola

Vanity Fair, April 1987


Joaquín Sorolla

Bride, Ansó, 1912-1914

Pencil on paper, 33.6 x 23 cm

Museo Sorolla, Madrid



Joaquín Sorolla

Bride, Ansó (rear view), 1912-1914

Pencil on paper, 33.6 x 23 cm

Museo Sorolla, Madrid


Related Articles


  • NewPainter-Cambridge Painters and Decorators March 25, 2012 03.24 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Lots of interesting informations in one place

  • Monique von Geyso February 20, 2014 05.29 am

    Hi Michelle,
    I would like to inquire about the Vanity Fair article. Is it possible that you have a copy of the article. I am busy doing research on the Flamenco costume and would like to read this article.

    I would also like to ask permission to use your information in my thesis

    Please let me know

    Kind regards


Leave a Comment

Monthly Archive


Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at :, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.