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Joaquin Sorolla Painting of Raquel Meller for Bonhams Auction

A portrait by Joaquín Sorolla, entitled ‘La Bella Raquel’ is to highlight Bonhams 19th Century Paintings auction on 29th September 2010, New Bond Street, London.

Acclaimed as a ‘genius’ by Sarah Bernhardt, Raquel Meller was a highly popular singer who started life singing cuplés (couplets) to earn a living. These were considered risqué and an undignified choice for a serious singer, but with her charm and charisma Meller managed to raise the genre and make it an acceptable art form. She went on to make her debut as a film actress in 1919. As well as performing all over Spain and France, she was the first Spanish popular singer to succeed in the USA where her live concerts broke box office records. On April 26th 1926 she appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. By 1930 she had attracted the attention and admiration of Charlie Chaplin, who negotiated unsuccessfully for her to have a role in his film ‘City Lights’ (1931). However he did incorporate her hit song ‘The violetera’ as the film’s major theme.

Meller continued to live the life of a star in France after the Spanish Civil War, enjoying friendships with characters such as Maurice Chevalier and Sarah Bernhardt. After a brief spell in Argentina, she moved back to Barcelona where she remained until her death following a fall in 1962. There is a statue of the Spanish diva in Plaça de Raquel Meller, Barcelona, not far from the Montjuic cemetery where she is buried.

Meller led a wild and controversial life at times, and it has even been suggested that she was responsible for betraying Mata Hari to the French authorities, in revenge for her having an affair with one of Meller’s lovers. This action resulted in the execution of the infamous spy-dancer.

Sorolla was infatuated with Meller and his feelings are clearly reflected in the quality and appeal of this painting, which is the second portrait that he completed of her. The first was painted in 1918, but, “this later example is a more joyful expression of their relationship, beautifully displaying her captivating character and stunning looks. The bravura of the brush strokes show the artist at his most fluid and confident. Although portraits by Sorolla do appear relatively frequently at auction, we are very excited to be offering such a fresh and vibrant work consigned from a private Spanish collection,” comments Charlie O’Brien, Head of Bonhams 19th Century Paintings Department.

Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) was a Spanish artist and close friend of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) – indeed he is sometimes referred to as the Spanish Sargent, reflecting the similarities in style between the artists.

The painting is estimated to fetch £150,000-200,000.

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