The depiction of the fisherboy in 19th century sculpture dates back to 1831, when, in a departure from the prevailing Neoclassic mode dominant for several decades, the sculptor François Rude (d. 1855) exhibited his plaster version of the Neapolitan fisherboy at the Salon. Rude's sculpture represented an unheroic, sentimental subject that corresponded to those depicted in the Italian genre paintings of Leopold Robert, and prompted the critic Edmond Gosse to observe later: "modern sculpture dates from 1833, when François Rude exhibited his young Neapolitan fisherboy at the Salon. This was the first attempt to present the human body as it exists before our eyes". The success of Rude's work inspired other sculptors to treat this same theme and variations of the fisherboy were produced by Francisque Duret (1833), Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1859) and Vincenzo Gemito (1876), among others. This full-length standing portrait by the little-seen Spanish sculptor, Felipe Moratilla, is an unusual and refreshing departure from the more regular seated or kneeling pose adopted by the latter artists. In the sensitive depiction of a young boy gathering shellfish and crabs, superlative in its detail, it is also a fine example of harmony between sculptor and founder, the latter in this case being the Roman firm of Nelli, who in the later decades of the 19th century edited works by such sculptors as Anton van Wouw and Alfred Gilbert.
Another example of this model, also cast by the Nelli foundry, sold Christie's East, 31 October 2000, lot 467 ($70,500).