Pepe Suarez, the father of the sitter in the present work, was a close friend and patron of Sorolla, referred to frequently by the artist in letters to his wife Clotilde. Like so many of the artist's private commissions, this portrait combines both the immediacy that came from a personal knowledge of his sitter, with a scale which suggests that it was painted with a view to public exhibition.
The painting is known from a photograph of the artist's studio by the artist's close friend Christian Franzen (fig. 1), shortly after it was painted, where it holds its own in a gallery of other portraits and Sorolla's signature beach scenes. The picture imposes with a grandeur which has roots not only in the portraiture of Velázquez, but also in the tradition of swagger portraiture represented by artists such as Van Dyck. Indeed, the boy's pose, hand placed on hip, and the column in the background, explicity echo the latter's favoured portraiture template.
Sorolla has used a deliberately restrained and sober palette to create a painting of simplicity and elegance and of psychological intensity. The glove and ribboned collar provide flashes of contrasting white and illuminate the face of the boy, who stares out of the picture plane with a confidence which belies his young age. The success of this pictorial formula is reflected in the fact that it was also used several times by the artist in portraits of his own son (see fig. 2).
We are grateful to Blanca Pons Sorolla for her assistance in cataloguing this lot, which will appear in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist under no. BPS 2010.