The CAEM researchers and other experts consider in contrast that it is a substantial self-portrait of Sorolla.
The piece was already known as “Study of a man’s bust”, a work from a private collection. In 1974 it was certified by Francisco Pons-Sorolla. Autorshsip ratified by Blanca Pons-Sorolla in 2014 (great-granddaughter of the author of the piece). She is also an expert in Sorolla’s painting, and provided the artwork with a catalogue number. The study has been carried out at the Centre d’Art d’Època Moderna of the University of Lleida, by the researchers Jésica Martí and Dr. Ximo Company, director of the centre, over six months. Above all, they have focused on the study of the portrayed figure, proposing the hypothesis that it may be a youthful self-portrait of Sorolla himself, made during his apprenticeship in Rome.
The portrait is an oil on a tablet glued to a thicker board. It depicts a young man with a scant bead, in profile, bent over himself drawing. This small format was used by the Valencian master to make notes of colour and intimate painting, such as a self-portrait. The artwork has been compared with various self-portraits and youth photographs by Joaquín Sorolla. In the opinion of the CAEM researchers, the piece is similar to other youth portraits made by Sorolla, in which he portrays himself on several occasions seen from behind, or even showing his own deformed reflection see through a concave mirror. Moreover, other factors support the hypothesis: the similarity of the profile with photographs of Sorolla himself, for example; or the technical study of the work, in which an intimate style is observed in the brushstroke, in addition to the use of the small format (the format used by the Valencian master to make notes of colour and his most personal painting).
All these arguments suggest that, indeed, it could be one of the artist’s first self-portraits. Furthermore, thanks to the non-invasive analytical techniques carried out at the CAEM (ultraviolet photography and digital microphotography), it has been possible to study the creative process followed by Sorolla in the execution of the work, thus providing valuable information on the modus operandi of the author during this period. Besides, during the study process, we have worked side by side with the restoration team of the center. The cleaning of the piece has been essential to better reveal the similarity of the features of the character portrayed with those of the artist himself, also helping to recover an inscription that had been veiled over the years, which reads the dedication to an enigmatic Esteban: “To my friend Esteban”, in addition to the signature of the author himself: “J. Sorolla”.
The study, that counts with numerous and precise illustrations, has been published in Spanish, but it also contains an English version.