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José Gutiérrez Solana (Madrid, 1886-1945)

The old Ship Owner

ca. 1925


Oil on canvas, 141 x 116 cm


Signed at the lower left corner “J. Solana”

Solana painted a series of single figures surrounded by objects that enable the viewer to identify these sitters. He depicted them within their own environments in compositions that are conceptually similar but which are individualised through the information offered by their possessions. This is the case with The old Ship Owner. In addition, this device allows the sitters to “speak” about their lives and thus to lose any sense of anonymity or absence.

The old Ship Owner depicts an elderly man whom Solana met on the quayside at Santander. In the last years of his life this old gentleman would spend his mornings among the boats, remembering and looking back to his past life. Solana conveys the old man’s spirit and presence, depicting him with his bottles of Jamaica rum and Dutch gin in a room filled with character, a glass case with a model sailing ship in it, a barometer and a painting of the old harbour at Santander that includes the cathedral with its clock tower in the background.

Solana described this elderly sitter with great respect in his writings, referring to his physical state, both in terms of his weaknesses and his liveliness, and even focused on his clothes. In his painted portrait the artist’s admiration is conveyed in the sense of fortitude that he brings to this figure who, according to Solana, was “a wise man, who died […] everyone I paint dies […] only the portraits never die.”

The artist deployed a palette of green and ochre tones for this work, making use of black to focus the composition and of light as an additional compositional element.

María José Salazar