Inside a ship, two aged fisherman
with serious, worried expressions tend to a younger one who lies on the
deck after an accident. A protective medal hanging from the younger
one's torso is supposed to ward off seagoing misfortunes like the one he
has just suffered. Various fishing implements and even some fish are
visible around the figures. This subject stems from the artist's deep
social concerns. The suffering of maritime workers ties in with other
paintings Sorolla made around 1890. Here it is directly inspired by the
view of that subject offered by writer Vicente Blasco Ibáñez in his
novel Flor de Mayo.
The drawing is rigorous and descriptive, but
the tradition of Velasquez appears in the use of colour, where ochres
predominate. The composition is unbalanced toward one side, giving it
great depth. And some aspects, such as the warm lighting coming from the
hatchway, foreshadow the importance light will have in this artist's
This emblematic picture is undoubtedly the best-known work on a social theme produced by Sorolla in his youth. It is also an especially good example of how fully the artist became involved in a genre which, at the time, was of particular relevance in Madrid’s official artistic circles, where Sorolla was determined to receive his first public recognition. The depth of its meaning is probably indicative of how close it was to the artist’s heart: the painting represents a sensitive issue in his native Valencia in what must be one of the most moving scenes in turn-of-the-century Spanish social realism. And They still say Fish is Expensive! shows a scene inside the hold of a fishing boat, where a young sailor, barely a boy, is lying on the ground after an accident at sea. On his naked torso hangs a medallion, a protective amulet to guard fishermen against misfortune. The young man is treated for his injuries by two old fishing companions, both with serious concentration on their faces. One holds him by the shoulders, whilst the other, wearing a traditional Catalan cap, applies a compress to the wound, which he has just wet in the pot of water in the foreground. The three sailors are surrounded by fishing tackle, whilst in the background is a pile of fish, caught during this unfortunate day’s work. The beholder is first struck by the silent, restrained fortitude of the two old seadogs as they care for the delicate, helpless body of the injured youth. The scene has all the dramatic solemnity of a profane pietà, imbued with a noble, manly poise which Sorolla alone was able to draw from the souls of Valencia’s fishermen.
hatchway: an opening or a door in the deck of a ship or the bottom of an aircraft, through which goods to be carried are passed.
foreshadow something (formal) to be a sign of something that will happen in the future. E.g. His sudden death had been foreshadowed by earlier health scares. These measures were foreshadowed in last year’s Health Committee report.