Self Portrait (1904) Joaquin Sorolla Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Joaquin Sorolla produced this memorable self portrait in 1904, and would have been in his early forties at the time. The artwork now resides in Madrid, Spain, at the Museo Sorolla, which is dedicated to his life and career.

The simple composition captures the artist looking directly at us whilst dressed in a smart, dark grey suit with white shirt and matching grey waistcoat. His beard is long but relatively tidy and his expression is serious. His dark hair is combed backwards and the bags under his eyes remind us of an ageing artist who is approaching his technical peak. We find a flat plain of brown on the right hand side which presumably represents an open door (or perhaps a blank canvas), and in the background we find a series of boxes in front of a plain wall. This room does not feel homely, and perhaps is a studio or spare room that is not lived in as such. Many art historians have compared this portrait to Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez in which that artist used a fairly similar expression, and we do know that Sorolla was a great admirer of Velazquez, as well as that famous painting more specifically. Sorolla himself would study the work of Velazquez in the Prado Museum, never realising that his own work would one day be destined for the same iconic venue.

It is unusual for a self portrait to feature such distance behind the subject, and this may have been another influence from Diego Velazquez. Symbolic additions have been used for centuries and some of the items in the background are canvases, as if to confirm his occupation, just in case we'd forgotten! This technique is more useful with portraits of commissioned figures from the past, such as when Vermeer would portray people from all manner of different roles - see The Milkmaid and The Astronomer for example. Perhaps it is less about Sorolla telling us what his job is, but more about showing confidence in what he was now achieving, showing pride if you like. This artwork also differs from most of the rest of his career in the sombre palette which connects to the Spanish Golden Age, but is not in line with the brighter tones found in his outdoor depictions.

The artist did not produce too many self portraits within his career, normally preferring to focus on the lives of others within his work. There was, however, another memorable self portrait from 1909, which came about just five years after this one and makes use of a fairly similar expression again. Self portraits have proven to be an important artistic genre in which artists reveal much about themselves. In some cases they have proven a popular form of content because of the ease in which artists can work, without having to pay models for their time or organise a trip outdoors. Rembrandt famously was devoted to this genre, and also found it easy to sell paintings of himself which helped to finance his somewhat extravagant lifestyle in which he regularly acquired paintings from other artists and slowly built up a large and expensive art collection of his own. Some of his own contributions to this unique art form included the likes of Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar, Self-Portrait with Two Circles and Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul and he worked with both oils and etchings.

Self Portrait (1904) in Detail Joaquin Sorolla