My Favourite Painting: Jemma Powell

The artist and actress Jemma Powell on a Spanish family portrait.

Jemma Powell on My Wife and My Children by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida

‘I was introduced to Sorolla by my mother, who is also a painter. He celebrated life and family in everything he painted.

‘This is a glimpse into the Sorolla family’s life‚ a mother, like mine, clearly hands on. A fleeting moment captured, the youngest child tugging playfully on her older sister’s dress as her mother tries to dress her — a scene that feels very familiar, because I’m one of four children.

‘It is an unusual and intimate moment depicting motherhood and couldn’t be further from the forced poses that people once had to sit in for hours when they were painted.’

Jemma Powell is an artist and actress who appeared in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and The Secret Garden. In October, she hosted her first solo exhibition in London, at Cricket Fine Art

Charlotte Mullins on My Wife and My Children

By 1898, when this was painted, the Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida was in his mid thirties. He had trained in Valencia and, as a young student, he was inspired by the 17th-century realist Velázquez. However, a travel grant to study in Rome followed by subsequent years in France painting en plein air lightened his palette and he spent the rest of his career fascinated by how light fell on his subjects, whether children racing along a breezy shoreline or women seated in a dappled garden.

In this tender study, Sorolla paints his wife, Clotilde García del Castillo, and their three children. The two eldest stand in pink dresses, one looking out at us quizzically as the younger is distracted by the toddler, who pulls at the dress’s hem.

Clotilde ushers them all along, bending at the waist to reach them. She wears a white dress with balloon sleeves that catch the day’s light, a flower tucked into her dark hair. The toddler’s lack of clothes suggest they may be at the seaside, but the background gives nothing away. The unfinished nature of the study — the sleeves barely sketched in, Clotilde’s right arm dissolving to nothingness — gives it an air of spontaneity.

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Sorolla increasingly embraced the freedom of working without preparatory drawings and, in later years, enjoyed painting the beaches of Biarritz, as well as his own garden in Madrid. Today, his house and garden in Madrid are open to the public as the Museo Sorolla.

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