Portrait of Charlie Chaplin`s favourite for sale

Last Updated: Aug 29, 2010, 11:22 AM IST

London: A painting of celebrated Spanish actress-singer Raquel Meller, whom Charlie Chaplin negotiated unsuccessfully to have a role in his film "City Lights", is expected to fetch 200,000 pounds at a sale here next month.

Spanish artist Joaquin Sorolla`s painting `La Bella Raquel` is one of the highlights of Bonhams 19th Century Paintings auction on September 29.

Acclaimed as a genius by Sarah Bernhardt, Meller was a highly popular singer who started life singing couplets to earn a living. These were considered 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 US where her live concerts broke box office records. 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.

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 auction house said.

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 painting is estimated to fetch 150,000-200,000 pounds.

Says Charlie O`Brien, head of Bonhams 19th century paintings department, "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."

PTI