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José Gutiérrez Solana (Madrid, 1886-1945)

The Physicist


Oil on canvas, 140 x 116 cm


Signed at the lower left “J. Solana”

Although Solana painted relatively few portraits he obtained notable successes in this genre including First Prize in the National Portraiture Competition of 1933 for The Bibliophile and a first prize medal for painting at the National Fine Arts Exhibition of 1936 with his portrait of Unamuno. Other portraits include The Merchant Navy Captain, The old Ship Owner, The Anatomy Professor and The Physicist. All are single figures, isolated in their own worlds and surrounded by elements that convey their personality and occupation without the need for titles. Solana gives these figures an individuality and sense of humanity that is not normally to be found in his group images.

In The Physicist Solana depicts the figure just as he sees him, devoid of idealisation or concessions and surrounded by the instruments of his profession. Possibly a scientist or an academic, this sitter is depicted with great dignity and with more emphasis on his social status than his scientific one. He is shown as elegantly dressed with his stick, top hat and gold watch next to the small figure of the hunter and a copy of El Imparcial, which is a slightly anachronistic detail as that newspaper had ceased publication ten years earlier, but functions here to further describe and locate the sitter, whom Solana considered the most important that he had painted to date: “[…] that gentleman in front of the Bologna bottle that is usually to be found in physics labs.”

The physicist is shown seated, his left hand clenched in a clear reflection of inner tension and his figure outlined against a sideboard that runs around the composition in the manner of a frieze and which undoubtedly belonged to Solana who liked to depict his own furniture. This same sideboard appears in The Merchant Navy Captain while the chair in which the physicist sits appears again in The Bibliophile.

This canvas, executed at the height of Solana’s career, is a quintessential expression of his mastery of colour, with a preference for shades of greens that are contrasted with grey-brown tones and blacks, in addition to small touches of red that create highlights in the composition. The portrait was undoubtedly painted under artificial light, creating the muted atmosphere that both dominates and unifies the composition.

María José Salazar