Painted in 1903, the present work is one of Sorolla's earliest and most successful large scale Valencian compositions to portray not only the work of the fishermen but also the natural beauty, inner strength and vital role of the fisherwomen within the local community.\n\nThe studied determination of the foreground group of three women, one holding a baby, walking from left to right towards an unseen goal imbue the essentially humble, everyday subject matter of Las Tres Velas with a sense of vibrancy and purpose. Frieze-like in its composition, the actions of the figures and boats work in unison to form part of the same rhythmic motion that elevates the whole to a higher level of meaning. With a young girl, mother and grandmother in the foreground figures, Sorolla clearly makes reference both to generations of Valencian fishermen who have been nurtured and sustained over the centuries by their women folk and, in a more general sense, to the three ages of man: youth, maturity and old age. In the infant held by the mother on the right, Sorolla also alludes to the child as the father of the man. Beyond them, the primary role of the male as hunter-gatherer is made abundantly clear in the three fishing boats in the background which scythe through the water, leading the women across the picture plain. Sorolla underscores the significance to his carefully composed epic in his choice of title: The Three Sails, a moniker that suggests the metaphorical as well as literal ideas behind it.\n\nOne of Sorolla’s first large scale essays on the theme of fisherwomen carrying baskets on their way to collect the day’s catch had been Las Sardineras of 1901. Neither quite as large as Las Tres Velas, nor as grand in conception, Las Sardineras is a glimpsed moment of the menial task of women haggling in front of the catch, baskets in hand. Likewise, in Pescadores Valencianas, a painting of the same year as Las Tres Velas, Sorolla depicts women selecting from the day’s haul with boats behind. Again marginally smaller both in size and ambition than the present work, the pictorial space is more cramped, the edges have been cropped and the horizon line is especially high, with hardly any sky visible. The focus is on the bowed heads of the fisherwomen choosing from the baskets before them, suggesting the hard drudge of their mundane lives. In contrast, the pictorial space in Las Tres Velas is strikingly more generous, the figures grander in conception, their grouping and actions more open to interpretation. Certainly the theme was one that clearly satisfied Sorolla, as he developed his successful displacement of the foreground figures in Las Tres Velas in subsequent works, monumentalising their actions, for example, in such canvases as Pescadoras Valencianas.\n\nBorn and raised in Valencia, Sorolla's interest in the lives of the local fishing community as a subject to paint had been invigorated during his first trip to Paris in 1885 when he visited a major retrospective of the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage. The essential goodness and humble monumentality that the French artist saw in the meekest worker had much in common with Sorolla’s own belief in the intrinsic beauty to be found in everyday life. Returning summer after summer to Valencia to work, Sorolla's research into the Valencian fishing community was boosted by his success at the Paris Salon of 1894 where he was awarded a medal for La Vuelta de la Pesca, a work that depicts Valencian fishermen returning to shore with their catch. However, as Sorolla himself acknowledged, it took him several more years both to fully explore the theme, and acquire the necessary painterly facility to do it justice. In the process, and as Las Tres Velas reveals, Sorolla’s interests too had began to stray away from purely masculine labour and broaden to include women and children.\n\nSorolla’s fascination in the local Valencian landscape and its people coincided with a wider interest among artists in the local and the regional. A number of regional artists’ communities developed both within Spain and more widely within Europe at the end of the 19th century. These range from Gauguin at Pont Aven in Brittany in the 1880s to Peder Severin Krøyer painting on the windswept beaches of Skagen in Denmark. Sorolla would have seen both Gauguin’s and Krøyer’s work at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. The primitive monumentality of Gauguin’s Breton women in their native costume in The Seaweed Gatherers for example finds echoes in the strong but feminine fisherwomen as they go about their daily chores along the Valencian beach in the present work.\n\nSorolla’s celebration of Valencia's fishing community reflected his native pride and unwavering loyalty in the future of the city and surrounding area. As Carmen Gracia explains, Sorolla hoped that Valencia would stimulate and direct the renaissance of the whole of Spain: ‘One of my most cherished hopes,’ Sorolla declared, ‘is that in the longed-for resurgence of my country, Valencia will take the lead in the industrial and artistic movement, as befits its brilliant tradition and its inborn artistic temperament.’ (Carmen Gracia, 'Sorollism: A Unique Aventure', in The Painter, Joaquín Sorolla, exh. cat., London, 1989, p. 44)\n\nSorolla’s elevation of the subject of Las Tres Velas from one of local interest to a work with a much wider frame of reference lies at the very heart of this philosophy. The positive attitude of faith in the Spanish people which Sorolla sought to express in his painting, distinguished him from such painters as Ignacio Zuloaga and the artists and intellectuals who formed the Generación del 98. Rejecting traditional Spanish Realism that looked back to Goya and El Greco, Sorolla set out instead to present a new and wholly constructive image of his country in which both the Mediterranean and the people of Valencia would play an integral part.\nSigned, dated and inscribed J. Sorolla y Bastida / 1903 / Valencia l.r.