Portrait of Charlie Chaplin's favourite Spanish star could bring £200,000

A portrait by Joaquín Sorolla, entitled 'La Bella Raquel' is to highlight Bonhams 19th Century Paintings auction on September 29 in London.

Acclaimed as a 'genius' by fellow actress 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.

Chaplin (1889-1977) tried to get
Meller a role in his film 'City Lights'

On April 26, 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 Hari, the infamous spy-dancer.

Artist 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.

Joaquín Sorolla's 'La Bella Raquel', of Raquel Meller

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," said 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 will carry an estimate of £150,000-200,000 when it auctions at Bonhams, in September.

Meanwhile, if you're a collector on the lookout for Charlie Chaplin memorabilia, a very early Chaplin signature - signed "Sincerely, Chas. Chaplin." on a photographic portrait - is presently for sale on the market.


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