The Painter Aureliano de Beruete1902. Oil on canvas, 115.5 x 110.5 cm.
The Painter Aureliano de Beruete is the most outstanding of all the portraits made by Sorolla. In this work he successfully combined the Velázquez inspiration that was a feature of his oeuvre during that period with direct and rigorous painting from the life and a profound and sensitive interpretation of the sitter’s outstanding personality. Sorolla was especially gifted at portraiture owing to the ease with which he captured physiognomies, especially male ones, and here he represented a public figure who was not only an art authority that collected, appreciated, and studied painting, but also a close friend of the artist and an outstanding painter himself. All of these factors constituted an extraordinary stimulus to create a true masterwork. Aureliano de Beruete (Madrid 1845– 1912) was the youngest of Aureliano de Beruete y Larrinaga (Navarre 1800–1887) and María de los Ángeles Moret y Quintana’s (Catalonia 1818–1892) four sons. Despite earning a doctorate in Law from the University of Madrid, Beruete chose to become a painter, especially of landscapes, at which he excelled. His assets assured him total independence, especially after his marriage in 1875 to his cousin, María Teresa Moret y Remisa—the granddaughter of bankers, whose portrait Sorolla painted a year earlier. As their correspondence and the dedication of the present portrait bear out, the two painters had a close friendship and saw each other frequently. Thanks to his broad and solid humanistic formation and the fact that he was older than Sorolla, Beruete exercised considerable influence upon his friend, whose commitment to the objectives of regenerationism were largely due to Beruete’s ideals as one of the founders of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza. Moreover, the latter’s high social standing allowed him to introduce Sorolla to noble and wealthy circles in Madrid as a portrait painter. Beruete is portrayed at the mature age of fifty-seven, four years after his excellent book on Velázquez was published in Paris. At that point, he was at the peak of his artistic career, with a style defined by large brushstrokes of pure colour. He is depicted sitting on his coat in a covered armchair, holding his gloves and top hat as if he had just walked in from the street. The momentary character of this pose is common in Sorolla’s portraits, as is the model’s bearing: sitting in profile with his head turned towards the viewer. Sorolla thus achieved a very characteristic sensation of immediacy while also rigorously repeating the arrangement he had employed the previous year in his portrait of Beruete’s wife, María Teresa Moret, which is its pendant. Nonetheless, the rosette of the Legion of Honour in Beruete’s lapel and above all the presence of a landscape on a field easel intentionally extend the sitter’s attributes beyond the mere physical reflection of his personality. The landscape appears to depict San Martín Bridge in Toledo, of which Beruete had made several oil paintings, including one he presented at the 1901 National Fine Arts Exhibition. It was common knowledge that he had a true predilection for Toledo and that he painted there between 1875 and 1911, frequently in the month of October. During his 1906 visit he was accompanied by Sorolla, and his paintings of Toledo, which Sorolla saw again in the large exhibition organised at the his studio following Beruete’s death in 1912, may have influenced Sorolla to return there that same year to paint it again. The extraordinary colourist quality of the narrow range of greys and blacks in the portrait is very well suited to the refined and sober elegance of the sitter, who is presented with great naturalness. As the poet Juan Ramón Jiménez pointed out when the portrait was exhibited in 1904, ‘the shadow of the old masters does not abandon Sorolla,’ and in his portraits, he understands ‘the malice of deceiving settings’ displayed by El Greco and Goya. Of his portrait of Beruete, Jiménez added that ‘it easily equals a Whistler.’ Having travelled to various European exhibitions, this portrait was admired in London in 1908 by Archer Milton Huntington, founder of the Hispanic Society of America, who sought to acquire it for his planned gallery of illustrious Spaniards of his time. Sorolla consulted the painting’s owner, Beruete, who answered him from Madrid in a letter dated 16 May 1908: ‘As you know, I intend to donate it and the one of María Teresa to the Museo Moderno. I know that you would make me another one, and that it would be even better, which is really something, but this canvas is very special to me; it belongs to a time now gone and has something I do not think could be achieved again, even if the new one were better in terms of art. You are of course aware that it has been very successful ever since it was first displayed and has been envied by many. Consequently, and in spite of the deep respect I feel for you, I sincerely regret that I will be unable to fulfil your request on this occasion.’ Beruete suggested that Sorolla paint a replica of the portrait while it was on show at the exhibition, but the artist, in keeping with his essentially naturalist bent, chose to paint a new portrait of his friend from the life. He did so without delay that same year of 1908, and as Beruete had imagined, it turned out to be very different. Still, Beruete very generously offered to lend the 1902 work for the monographic exhibition of Sorolla’s work organised in Valencia in 1909, where it was indeed put on display. Following Beruete’s death in 1912, it was placed on an easel with a garlanded frame in the large exhibition of his work organised in the rooms of Sorolla’s studio at his house in Madrid. Sorolla had lent this space ‘as a fond tribute to the memory of his old friend,’ as the catalogue published for the occasion read. The Valencian artist again thought of this portrait when he had to depict his friend in a painting of The Board of Trustees of the Museum House of El Greco in Toledo, of which both Beruete and Sorolla were members. It is significant that on that occasion, the artist depicted his friend in the same pose as in his 1902 work, which he must have considered more refined and representative than that of the 1908 portrait. There is something in the proud image of the by-thenmature gentleman that recalls the elegance of the portraits made by El Greco, whose figure was the cause of that outstanding meeting. And it is significant that Sorolla represented himself in a posture similar to that of Beruete, undoubtedly remembering the affectionate friendship they had shared. (Barón, J.: Joaquín Sorolla, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2009, pp. 298-301)