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La Chula by María Sorolla

I came across this stunning painting the other day titled La Chula by María Sorolla:

María Sorolla, La Chula, 1925
María Sorolla, La Chula, 1925

At first glance, I assumed it was by THE Sorolla. But turns out it was by one of his daughters, María. I went down a few rabbit holes regarding her life and work, but I’ll save that for another day. I’ll focus on the painting for now.

It’s a high-key painting, meaning all the colors are around the light end of the value scale. This is high-key painting at its best, where the colors almost appear to shimmer.

Here’s a grayscale of the painting. Notice how flat it appears without color. We can still make out the subject, but it certainly lacks contrast. This tells us that hue and saturation are doing most of the heavy lifting and value is playing more of a secondary role.

María Sorolla, La Chula, 1925 Grayscale

The subject’s hair and facial features act as dark accents and help anchor the painting. They make the surrounding colors appear lighter by comparison. They also focus our attention on the subject’s face (our eyes are drawn to contrast).

The color theme is pleasant and analogous, with various green, blue, and purple tones. The red lips give a dash of warmth. The lights are also warm in relation to the shadows, which plays into the idea that she’s bathed in sunlight, perhaps outside in her garden.

I’m not sure who the subject is. I couldn’t find much information about the painting. She looks off to the side with a vacant stare. Although she’s the focal point of the painting, it doesn’t seem like she knows it.

I always find paintings like this with open-ended questions to be fascinating. Who is she? What’s she pondering? Why is she so well dressed? Where is she? It reminds me of Frederick McCubbin’s painting, The Pioneer, which leaves you questioning who the person is in the final section of the triptych. A good lesson here is that you don’t need to answer every question for the viewer. It can be good to leave them with a hint of curiosity.

Anyway, I’ll send another email when I get a chance about those rabbit holes I mentioned earlier.

Until then, happy painting!

If you ever want to learn more, start with my Painting Academy course.

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy

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Dan Scott is the founder of Draw Paint Academy. He's a self-taught artist from Australia with a particular interest in landscape painting. Draw Paint Academy is run by Dan and his wife, Chontele, with the aim of helping you get the most out of the art life. You can read more on the About page.


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13 comments on “La Chula by María Sorolla”

    • Chula is a slur. It means a low-class, brassy strumpet, originally referring to women from the slums of Madrid. I consider this title ironic as the person portrayed is all pastels and softness, clearly a lady! This discussion reminds me of La Maja Vestida and La Maja Desnuda. People think La Maja is a complimentary title when it is closer to la chula. I personally hate class judgments and slut-shaming.

      Reply
  1. Hi Dan, “La Chula” is magnificent! I have been a portrait painter for over 50 years, and am always in awe of such beautiful work. Admiring the painting, I as well do wonder what she is thinking about, are they happy memories, is there a little melancholy there. Does she have to make a hard decision, has she decided to take the safe route, or jump into the fray no matter what. This beautiful painting speaks volumes and we will never really know!
    Thank you Dan, your mail is really appreciated. Hugs, Mollyanne

    Reply
  2. The pioneer – I always saw that as their son, tending their Graves with a town and masonry bridge built in the distance.

    They started living in their wagon, then a cabin, then a town blossoming.

    Reply
  3. Hello Dan,
    It is always a pleasure read your analyses. It is very interesting!
    I’m Spanish and “La chula” was utilised to named popular people from Madrid with affirmed character. We continue celebrating a traditional party every year in Lavapies, “La fiesta de la Paloma” in a popular Madrid’s neighbourhood where many people dress up as chulos/chulapos and they show us the chulap@s dance. We have this party in summer and for a weekend. It is beautiful:
    https://okdiario.com/madrid/como-celebran-fiestas-paloma-madrid-11391609
    Greetings and thank you again for your painting’s analyses!
    Ana V. Moreno

    Reply
  4. hi dan,

    thanks for this article. it actually answered a question that i didnt know how to ask! ill be taking this value lesson home today and get to work.
    looking forward to your next article.

    -roy

    Reply

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