Returning to Rome, Sorolla continued to experiment with a myriad of styles, techniques and subjects—from religious and literary painting (in part to fulfill the demands of his grant) to sensual scenes of Greco-Roman civilization which aligned with the work of his Spanish colleagues. Although elements of these compositions, particularly his bold handling of color and line, are evident in the present work, the energetic brushwork that builds the young model’s costume and wavy hair, and the careful attention to minute elements of her expression, point to the naturalists Sorolla encountered in Paris (as well as Italian naturalists like Francisco Paolo Michetti (1851-1929)). Although the identity of the model is not recorded, it would seem she was studied from life, her portrait both capturing her specific personality and elevating her to an icon of rural life in a manner similar to the work of realist painter Jules Breton (see lots 10, 13). In the year before the present work’s execution, Sorolla had been criticized for just such “sketches from life” by the Academie when submitting his Tres cabezas de hombre for shipment to Valencia. Such unfavorable reviews may point to why Cabeza de italiana was, like a similar sketch dedicated to his wife Clotilde, given to beloved family rather than submitted for official review or included in the works the artist sold to dealers to supplement his travel stipend (fig. 1). Indeed, in some ways for Sorolla, Cabeza de italiana was ahead of its time—and in many ways it foreshadowed his mature style, which would earn him international fame.
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