BISHOP Juan José Díaz de Espada y Landa (1756–1832), of the diocese of Havana, was the first important promoter of art in the nineteenth century. A friend of Spanish painter Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (Goya), he was aware of the role art played for the Catholic church, a tradition that continued into the nineteenth century. It has been said that when the bishop was named to the diocese in 1802, he carried with him a valuable collection of paintings.
Cuba’s first art school, the Academia de San Alejandro, was founded by the Intendente (Quartermaster general) Alejandro Ramírez in 1818 at the request of the French painter Juan Bautista Vermay (1786–1833), who also became its first director. Vermay, who had arrived in Cuba with recommendations from Goya, was known for his frescoes in the Havana Cathedral and some canvases in the Edificio del Templete (Small Temple). His portrait of the Manrique de Lara family, painted in a simple setting, is a departure from the more elegant style of the period. Under Vermay, for lack of resources the school emphasized drawing. At the Academia de San Alejandro, Vermay continued the teachings of his mentor, French painter Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), and promoted neoclassicism. Unlike him, Vermay’s successors were not interested in themes that pertained to the island or in developing a Cuban art, preferring to concentrate on European artistic traditions.