Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Dating from 1895, Retrato de Modesto Castillo is one of Pablo Picasso's earliest known oil paintings and already shows the incredible talent of this young artist, hinting at the incredible skill that he would come to attain over his lifetime. Already by this time, in his mid-teens, Picasso was a near-flawless draughtsman, but had only recently graduated to oils. However, as Retrato de Modesto Castillo reveals, he adapted incredibly quickly.
This portrait was painted towards the end of Picasso's time living with his family in Corunna, in Galicia, in North-West Spain. There, his father, José Ruiz Blasco, had acquired a position teaching art. John Richardson, writing about this period in the young Picasso's life, explained that this may have been through the agency of don Ramón Pérez Costales, the father of Modesto Castillo and a former minister who was heavily involved in the world of fine arts; his home was near the apartment rented by don José. Don Ramón came to adopt an avuncular role to Picasso and his family, and was himself painted during the same period. 'I remember his noble carriage and his cordiality,' Picasso would recall. 'I remember him better than my playmates. With him I discussed things and exchanged views... I sold him my work... Every painter must remember his first collector with gratitude. Pérez Costales was my maecenas' (Picasso, quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso: Volume I: 1881-1906, London, 1991, p. 38).
Modesto Castillo (whose name is sometimes given as 'Castilla', including in a play that Picasso himself wrote over half a century later), the sitter in the present portrait, was the illegitimate son of don Ramón. A journalist, he had published a work defending his father's outspoken political stance shortly before this picture was painted (see ibid., pp. 487-88). Of it, Picasso would recall that Castillo had wanted to be painted in a burnous, the North African headdress; as one was not to hand, 'I made him wear a terry-cloth robe' (Picasso, quoted in ibid., p. 38).