Aureliano de Beruete y Moret, Son1902. Oil on canvas, 140 x 82 cm.
Sorolla painted this portrait of Aureliano de Beruete y Moret (1876–1922) the same year he portrayed his father, the painter Aureliano de Beruete, and a year after he painted his mother, María Teresa Moret. In this work—sold to the Beruete family for two thousand five hundred pesetas—however, the artist resorted to a different and more modern format whose narrow verticality more adequately emphasised the youthful elegance of the model. At the age of twenty-six, Beruete y Moret was beginning a career as art historian that would culminate in his appointment as director of the Museo del Prado in 1918. As is frequently the case in Sorolla’s portraits, the figure appears in three-quarter view, occupying the central axis of the canvas and almost its entire length, a composition that emphasises his forceful presence. Like his father—though standing rather than sitting— he appears to pose in a casual manner, as if he had just walked in from the street, which would explain why he is still holding his cane, gloves and top hat in his right hand. He is portrayed leaning slightly forward and to the left, bringing an effect of instantaneity to the work, as if he were about to move. This impression is underscored by the oblique placement of the cane. The spontaneity of his attitude is further accentuated by the placement of his left hand in his pocket, a posture popular among portrait painters at that time. The composition thus appears clearly articulated between the parallel angles of the cane and the left forearm, which serve to break down what would otherwise have been an excessively vertical composition and contribute to the impression of agility and dynamism in the figure. The model’s distinction is also reflected in his attire: an elegant grey suit, dark chestnut waistcoat with lighter dots and bluish-grey silk tie shot with a lighter sheen, against which the yellow glow of the tie pin stands out. This pin, which looks like a topaz, and the gold cufflinks are his only jewellery. The young man’s figure is further enlivened by the highlights on his silk lapels, the quality of his fine leather gloves and the highlights on his top hat. Sorolla successfully captures Beruete y Moret’s affable and energetic personality in his depiction of the model’s face. The moustache with upturned tips, in vogue at the time, fails to hide the smiling, friendly expression of his mouth, whose lips are visible under its fine layer of hair. This balance of gentle amiability and gravitas was characteristic of the young man’s personality, as was his intelligence, unmasked in his bare forehead, and his noble character, revealed by the frank, limpid gaze of his lively, gleaming eyes. In this portrait, more than in those of the model’s parents, Sorolla adapted his work to the dictates of the worldly portraits inspired by Velázquez that were then being championed on the international scene by figures such as John Singer Sargent, with whose work this likeness has been compared, though it could also be linked to other artists. Still, the interest Sorolla took in the lighting, which is conspicuous in the soft orange-toned highlights that enliven the face and hand, reveal his special attention to this aspect. Accordingly, he did not overlook the fine lines of shadow that the thin moustache tips project on the sitter’s face, the orange reflections on his chin and the blue ones of the tie on his white collar, as well as the changing tonalities of the cane. Moreover, the appearance of surprised instantaneity revealed by his posture and the immediate and direct manner in which he looks at the viewer are idiosyncratic traits of Sorolla’s male portraits, of which this is one of the finest examples, and testimony to the artist’s effort to respond to the model’s lively critical intelligence through the quality of his work. There is also an unfinished portrait of Beruete y Moret by Sorolla,dating from his time as director of the Prado, which shows him wearing a tie. His posture is curiously similar to that of the 1902 portrait, but his expression is more forceful and he is portrayed sitting at a table with books and papers, similar to other portraits which Sorolla painted for the Hispanic Society of America, to which it may be related. Both works were displayed in one of the rooms of the 1932 Autumn Salon in which the Association of Painters and Sculptors paid homage to Sorolla. In addition to these two portraits, Beruete owned at least six other works by Sorolla, which were also put on show at the same exhibition. (Barón, J.: Joaquín Sorolla, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2009, pp. 301-303).