Sunlight and Shadows / by Jeannine Cook

Today is a day of heavy flat light, laden with humidity and heat, here on the Georgia coast. All contours are softened, distances are blurred and somehow the scene is flat and almost featureless. It is a day that makes me long for the bright sharp sunlight of the Mediterranean. It also makes me realise how much landscape artists are influenced by the ambient light.

Think, for instance, of Japanese artists. Down the ages, in their nature-based art, the Japanese have been very aware of the play of light on rocks, trees, architecture. Shadows, the corollary of sunlight, are a natural function of their architecture, for example, with the broad eaves on buildings casting wonderful angled shadows. The ultimate interpretation of the beauty of light can be seen in their black lacquer ware, flecked with gold or silver. Viewed by lantern or candlelight, this lacquer ware evokes their northern, sea-influenced light in haunting fashion.

At the other extreme are Western artists who work in the brilliance of Mediterranean light. Take, for example, two of Spain's artists, Joaquin Sorolla from Valencia and Joaquin Mir from Barcelona. Sorolla ( was multi-faceted in his art, ranging from wonderful luminous portraits to vast historical paintings and, my favourites, landscapes flooded with light. In fact, a quote by Edmund Peel from James Gibbons Huneker, in the book, The Painter, Joaquin Sorolla, says it all: Sorolla..."the painter of vibrating sunshine without equal..." It is interesting to study Sorolla's paintings: many of his landscapes which include figures have dramatically bold, abstract shadows (such as his paintings of Valencian fisher women). Yet landscapes done in Javea, Valencia or Malaga, in mainland Spain's Mediterranean coast, are often painted in a very narrow range of values, without dramatic shadows. Even more deliriously high key are some of his depictions of the almost incandescent cliffs and headlands in Mallorca, especially the sun-drenched scenes of Cala San Vicente in the north-east of the island.

Interestingly, Mallorca, with its amazing light, was also the springboard for Joaquin Mir's greatest successes. A contemporary of Sorolla (who lived from 1863-1923), Mir was born in Barcelona in 1873 and lived until 1940. Colour and light were the keys to his art : "All I want is for my works to lighten the heart and flood the eyes and the soul with light", he said in 1928. He forged his own path to celebrating the Mediterranean sunlight and shadows, sometimes veering to realism, other times towards abstraction, but always seeking to interpret the beauty he saw in a delirium of colour and light. He borrowed the Impressionists' palette of colours, eschewing black, but he used the colours in his own highly original fashion. When you see Mir's works done in Mallorca, you can feel the wonderfully clear light pulsating over everything - the Es Baluard Museum has a number of these canvases (

Perhaps evoking the clarity of Mediterranean light will help banish the Georgian grey skies of humid heat.... I can but hope!