By the time Joaquín Sorolla painted Figure of a Merchant, one of his charming apuntes, or oil sketches, he had already emerged as the leader of a new modern school of painting in Spain. In 1892, he had won a gold medal at the National Exhibition in Madrid and first prize at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago the following year. In the years that followed, Sorolla's reputation continued to grow, leading one reviewer for the artist's first solo exhibition in the United States to declare that the Spaniard was the 'undisputed chief' of a 'vigorous school of painters who, absolutely Spanish in style, have revived the art of their Fatherland and are forcing it to that position of eminence which it held in past centuries' (W.E.B. Starkweather, 'Joaquín Sorolla, 'The Man and His Work,'' Eight Essays on Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, II, The Hispanic Society of America, 1909, p. 7).
Sorolla's renown led to many requests for portraits by some of the most influential figures of his day, from the royal family in Spain to President William Howard Taft in the United States. In Figure of a Merchant, Sorolla inscribed a dedication to the Infanta Isabel, Spain's Princess of Asturias, and one of the most popular members of the royal family. Years later, the Infanta would request Sorolla to paint her own portrait, which the artist exhibited at the Hispanic Society of America in 1909.
We are grateful to Blanca Pons Sorolla for confirming the authenticity of this work and for assisting in the cataloguing of this entry.