Eulalia Fernández Molina de Urcola, the subject of this arresting portrait, was a close friend of Sorolla's. The Sorollas and de Urcolas met in 1907 after one of the artist's students, who was also a portraitist for the de Urcolas, told the family about the failing health of his teacher's daughter Maria. Moved by the story of Maria's struggle with tuberculosis, the de Urcolas invited the Sorolla family to stay in their hunting lodge in Monte del Pardo outside of Madrid without ever having met the painter or his wife and children. After several months stay in Pardo, Maria had regained her strength and the Sorollas and de Urcolas had begun a friendship that would last a lifetime and result in several stunning portraits.
During this period, Sorolla was on the threshold of becoming one of Spain's most celebrated artists. While his reputation as a major international painter would not be established until years later, the newspaper La Nación reported in 1906 that 'Sorolla is one of the glories of Valencia...one of the glories of modern Spain. His feet are set on the triumphal road leading to the heights of contemporary art and to universal fame...He is one of the finest painters of all time, a worthy successor of the high lineage that extends from the sixteenth century in Spain to the present day, by way of those lofty summits that are called Velázquez and Goya' (Quoted in E. Peel, The Painter: Joaquín Sorolla, New York, 1989, p. 76). Such auspicious praise proved true as Sorolla enjoyed great success in the following years with solo exhibitions in Europe and the United States and important commissions, most notably for the epic Vision of Spain installation at the Hispanic Society of America in New York.
Sorolla's portrait of Señora de Urcola was executed in the years leading up to his work on Vision of Spain, when the artist reached the height of his international recognition. In the painting, Sorolla portrays his sitter elegantly wrapped in a black mantilla and voluminous silk dress. She sits in an ample chair leaning against a yellow silk pillow that Señora de Urcola gave as a gift to Sorolla, which he later used in various studio portraits of Madrileño society. The loose handling of paint, the play of light and shadow against the cascading skirt and pillow, the frankness of the Señora's gaze and her dignified yet relaxed pose are reminiscent of the work of Sorolla's contemporary John Singer Sargent. Both successful society portraitists, Sargent and Sorolla held a mutual respect for one another's art. Noting the affinity between the two, The New York Herald reported in 1908 that 'Señor Sorolla is at his best in portraiture when he finds his models in the intimate circle of his family and friends. There is something of Sargent's verve and directness in the painting of the artist's children' (op.cit., 86). That same verve and directness are found in Sorolla's depiction of Señora de Urcola, who had by then become much like family.
We are grateful to Blanca Pons-Sorolla for assisting in the cataloguing and research of this painting. This work will be included in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist with the provisional number of BPS 2081.