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And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive!
Sorolla y Bastida, Joaquín
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Sorolla y Bastida, Joaquín

Valencia (Spain), 1863 - Cercedilla, Madrid (Spain), 1923

Sorolla y Bastida, Joaquín See author's file

And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive!

1894. Oil on canvas.
Room 061A

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. After the success of Another Marguerite! in 1892, Sorolla repeated his achievement winning another first class medal at the 1895 National Exhibition, to which he submitted this painting along with thirteen others, mostly portraits. 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. As in many youthful works of similar nature and intent, Sorolla continues to be constrained here by the formal rigours of naturalism in its strictest sense. The drawing is still firm and descriptive, and the figures are particularly clearly defined. Only in the scene around them does the artist adopt a freer approach. Nevertheless, the interpretation of the subject matter, the highly balanced composition and the bold spatial dynamics give this painting a special integral harmony. With total naturalness, Sorolla has incorporated into his canvas some of the more innovative plastic devices he was to use in his subsequent works. 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. Moreover, the way the artist captures the light shining in through the boat’s hatch, bathing the hold and its contents in a clear halflight reveals the extent of Sorolla’s achievement in comparison to his handling of light in earlier genre works. The bold modern approach to framing sharply shifts the perspective of the hold to one side, emphasising the spatial impression of the setting and revealing the ladder down which the fishermen have brought the injured youth. This adds a depth to the composition that is rounded off by a mound of glinting silver fish, piled up in the background. The serene, deeply-felt emotion with which Sorolla interprets his fishermen stands in contrast to other major paintings featuring similar scenes and characters, such as Eating on the Boat, painted four years later. Though similar in size, the approach is radically different, with the artist by that stage wholly immersed in the true-to-life costumbrismo so typical of his seafaring scenes. Although Pantorba claims the picture was painted in Valencia in the summer of 1894, Sorolla must in fact have started it several months before, for in a letter to his friend Pedro Gil dated earlier that year, he announces: ‘I am finishing off my picture for the Salon. It is large in size, although no bigger than two metres, and is a scene with fishermen inside a fishing boat.’ He also refers to the large size of the figures in proportion to the canvas, which increases the grave monumentality of the composition and the emphatic protagonist role of its characters. The theme and title of the picture are inspired by the final passage from the novel The Mayflower which Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (1867– 1928) was writing at the same time that his fellow Valencian was painting this picture, and was published in 1895. The novel describes the wretched lives of fishermen and ends with the story of an accident suffered by a team of mariners on the high seas and the rescue of the dead body of one of them which is taken into the belly of the wrecked boat. Reviews of this renowned painting, which in its day even inspired passionate poems in tribute to its author, have been virtually unanimous in their praise. In the same year, the picture went on public display in Madrid. The Museo Sorolla has two oil sketches which the artist presumably produced in preparation for this great painting. One, Boat Hold, Valencia depicts equipment inside a barge, while the other, Boat Interior, outlines the boat scene that appears in the final canvas. The second of these depicts the base of the main mast and the beam of light shining in through the open hatch on deck and offers the same field of view. The picture can be seen unframed on an easel in a photograph of Sorolla’s studio on Plaza del Progreso in Madrid. The print probably dates from 1894, before the canvas was awarded the first prize at the National Exhibition the following year and was purchased by the Spanish State. From Paris, Sorolla was to notify his wife of the award in a letter dated 15 June 1895: ‘I imagine you will have already learned that in Madrid I won the first prize for the picture And They still say Fish is Expensive.’ (Díez, J. L.: Joaquín Sorolla. Museo Nacional del Prado, 2009, pp. 230-232).


Technical data

Related artworks

Inventory number
Sorolla y Bastida, Joaquín
And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive!
Height: 151.5 cm; Width: 204 cm
Acquisition, 1895; Museo de Arte Moderno 1895-1971; Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo, until 1971; Museo del Prado, 1971</br>

Bibliography +

Lozoya, Juan de Contreras y López de Ayala, Marqués de, Historia del arte hispánico, Salvat, Barcelona-Buenos Aires, 1949, pp. 446.

Puente, Joaquín de la, Exposición de Arte Español, Asahi Shimbun, Tokio, 1970, pp. nº120.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas del siglo XIX, Ministerio de Cultura, Madrid, 1985, pp. 245.

Ivars, José-Francisco, Els Sorolla de L'Havana. Colleccio del Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Cuba, Museo San Pío V, Valencia, 1985.

Exposiciones nacionales del siglo XIX: premios de pintura, Centro Cultural del Conde Duque, Ayuntamiento, Concejalía de Cultura, Madrid, 1988, pp. 182 nº36.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (III). Nuevas Adquisiciones. Museo Iconográfico. Tapices., Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1996, pp. nº1198.

España fin de siglo: 1898, Fundación La Caixa, Barcelona, 1997, pp. nº3.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Maestros de la pintura valenciana: del siglo XIX en el Museo, Museo Nacional del Prado Autoridad Portuaria, Madrid, 1997, pp. 188 nº39.

Claves de la España del Siglo XX, Sociedad Esta.Spaña Nuevo Milenio, 2001.

Sargent - Sorolla, Fundación Colección Thyssen-Borne, Madrid, 2006, pp. nº4.

Diez, J.L; Barón, J., El siglo XIX en el Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2007, pp. 358 nº86.

Joaquín Sorolla: 1863-1923, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2009, pp. 230-232 nº11.

Pérez Rojas, Francisco Javier, ''Sorolla - Zuloaga. Impresión y expresión de la pintura de fin de siglo en España'', Del realismo al impresionismo, Fundación Amigos Museo del Prado - Galaxia Gutenberg, Madrid, 2014, pp. 340.

Díez, José Luis (dir.), Pintura del Siglo XIX en el Museo del Prado: catálogo general, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2015, pp. 552.

Pons Sorolla, Blanca, 'Sorolla y Paris' En:, Museo Sorolla,, 2016, pp. 13-47 [27 n.33].

Gerard Powell, Véronique, 'Joaquin Sorolla. And thet still say fish is expensive!' En:, Sorolla. Spanish Master of Light, National Gallery Company Limited,, Londres, 2019, pp. 108 N.11.

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo de Arte Moderno, 1900. Núm. 593.
SECCIÓN DE PINTURA EN SUS DIVERSAS CLASES, DIBUJOS Y GRABADOS EN LÁMINAS. / Sorolla (D. Joaquín) [...] 593.- ¡Y aún dicen que el pescado es caro! / Alto 1'53 metros. Ancho 2'04 metros.

Inv. General del Museo de Arte Moderno, 1899-1902. Núm. 286.

Catálogo Museo de Arte Moderno, 1899. Núm. 384.
SECCIÓN DE PINTURA EN SUS DIVERSAS CLASES, DIBUJOS Y GRABADOS EN LAMINAS. / SOROLLA (D. Joaquín) [...] 384.- ¡Aún dicen que el pescado es caro!. / Alto 1'53 metros. Ancho 2'04 metros.

Inv. Museo Arte Moderno, 1954. Núm. 566.

Registros-Inventarios Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno, 1900-1936. Núm. 30-S y 59-S.

Actas traslado de obras MEAC - Prado, 1971-1973. Núm. 983.

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 1198.
Cuadros procedentes de la Exposicion Gral de Bellas Artes celebrada en Madrid el año de 1895 cuyos cuadros fueron adquiridos por el Estado con destino a este Museo en virtud de Real orden fecha 12 de Julio de 1895. [...] 1198 / Autor D. Joaquin Sorolla / un cuadro titulado ''¡Aun dicen que el pescado es caro! / Adquirido en la cantidad de 4000 ptas / alto 1'53 ancho 2'04 [enmendadas a lápiz= 1'43 - 1'96 / [con otra grafía=] Pasó al Museo de Arte Moderno

Inscriptions +

J. Sorolla / 1894
Signed and dated. Front, lower left corner

M.A.M. 30 (S)
Inscribed. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in blue. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light
18.03.2019 - 07.07.2019

Joaquín Sorolla
26.05.2009 - 06.09.2009

El Siglo XIX en el Prado
31.10.2007 - 20.04.2008

Sargent / Sorolla
03.10.2006 - 07.01.2007

Las claves del siglo XX
27.02.2001 - 30.05.2001

1898. España fin de siglo. La vida cotidiana
01.05.1998 - 31.07.1998

1898. España fin de siglo. La vida cotidiana
12.01.1998 - 19.04.1998

Maestros de la pintura valenciana del siglo XIX en el Museo del Prado
25.11.1997 - 25.01.1998

Exposiciones Nacionales del Siglo XIX. Premios de Pintura (1856-1900)
06.06.1988 - 24.07.1988

Location +

Room 061A (On Display)


Displayed objects +

Lighting accesories: Farol cuadrangular

Update date: 23-02-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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