Cuban Art and National Identity: The Vanguardia Painters, 1927-1950

Cuban Art and National Identity: The Vanguardia Painters, 1927-1950

Cuban Art and National Identity: The Vanguardia Painters, 1927-1950

Cuban Art and National Identity: The Vanguardia Painters, 1927-1950


"Surely the most complete book on Cuban modernism to be published in English or Spanish. It will be indispensable to both the scholar and the general reader."--Julio Blanc, art historian

"The most complete and lucid discussion of the vanguardia painters of the 1920s and 1930s available anywhere."--Louis A. Pérez, Jr., University of South Florida

The strong and cohesive artistic avant-garde that emerged in Havana in the twenties was seminal in the evolution of the modern Cuban identity. Born around the turn of the century, the vanguardia painters shared the heady sense of confidence and nationalism that characterized progressive Cuban intellectuals of the time. This book, lavishly illustrated with reproductions of sixty paintings, rediscovers the vanguardia, describing for the first time in English its importance in Cuban history and culture.
By 1927 the nucleus of the vanguardia artists (who showed their work that year in a series of exhibitions in Havana) had rejected the academic conventions of Cuba's national art academy. In their formative years, many had lived in Paris, where they studied and absorbed the tenets of surrealism, cubism, and modernist primitivism. They returned to Cuba committed to artistic innovation and eager to embrace the heritage of their island. They increasingly identified with the humble and exploited sectors of society, portraying the peasant--often depicted with a serious, dignified facial expression--and the countryside as symbols of national identity.
The vanguardia artists achieved international recognition in 1944 with the Modern Cuban Painting show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; in 1951 they came full circle to the city where they discovered their artistic vision with the Contemporary Cuban Art show in Paris.
For most of this century, support for the Cuban vanguardia artists has been meager. Recently, however, the National Museum of Cuba has actively collected and organized retrospective exhibitions of their work, which is now widely recognized for its historic and aesthetic value. In the United States, the work of the vanguardia is displayed in museums from San Francisco to New York, and major holdings are on display at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1993 the Studio Museum in Harlem featured Wifredo Lam and His Contemporaries as its twenty-fifth anniversary show. Juan A. Marténez is assistant professor of art history at Florida International University. He lectures frequently on Cuban art at museums and conferences throughout the United States and he is the author of numerous articles and catalogue essays on Cuban art.


In writing this book I meant to fill one of many gaps in the study of modern Latin American and Caribbean art. While the so-called vanguardia generation of Cuban painters has received some critical attention in surveys of Latin American art and in articles and catalogue essays, no comprehensive study of this significant and early modern movement in Caribbean and Latin American painting exists. My aim in providing a detailed account of this generation's contributions to the region's art and culture was to disseminate essential and yet difficult to obtain information (particularly in English) on this generation of painters, to expand the discussion of the relationship between modern European and Cuban art, and to extend the discourse on the connections among Cuban art, culture, and society. the theme that motivates and informs this study is the examination of the artistic symbolization of national identity or ethos. My intended audience is all those persons working or otherwise interested in the field of modern Latin American, Caribbean, and Cuban art and culture.

I would like to thank my colleagues as well as family and friends of the artists included in this study for their enthusiastic contribution to this project. I am particularly grateful to my former professors Robert Hobbs and Darrell Levi for guiding my efforts in the initial shaping of the manuscript. I owe a large debt of gratitude to the noted Cuban historian Louis A. Pérez, Jr.; to Ramón Vásquez Diaz, the leading specialist in early modern Cuban art at the Museo Nacional de Cuba; to eminent Latin American art historian Shifra M. Goldman; and to art historian and curator of modern and contemporary Cuban art Giulio V. Blanc for reading the manuscript and making many helpful suggestions. I am indebted to the Art History Department of Florida State University for its seminal role in this study. Many thanks to librarians Lesbia O. Varona and Ana Rosa Nufiez of the University of Miami Otto Richter Library for their warm and expert as-

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