Sunday, May 16, 2010

(Social) Realism: Cuba

Leopoldo Romanach (1862 - 1951)

Leopoldo Romañach y Guillen was born in Sierra Morena, Corralillo, in the province of Las Villas on October 7, 1862. His formal primary and seconday education was conducted in Barcelona, where he came into contact with the work of the prestigious Catalan artist Fortuny. He returned to Cuba at the age of fifteen and in 1885 he enrolled at the San Alejandro Academy. There, he was a disciple of Miguel Melero.

In 1889 he received a scholarship to study at the Free School of Painting in Italy. He participated in Italy's Associazionne Artistico Internazionale, where he won some awards. From Italy he proceeded to New York City in 1895, where he established himself as a painter for several years. In 1900, he returned to Havana and was named professor of color theory at San Alejandro. From this institution, he dedicated the rest of his life to preparing three generations of artists. Due to his tolerance of new ideas in the arts and his pedagogic talents, he was celebrated by his pupils, not only by those who leaned toward academicism, but also by those who followed the way of the moderns. Romañach frequently left Cuba on contemplative journeys and his work was displayed in numerous important exhibits.

Eduardo Abela (1889 - 1965)
Eduardo Abela (1889 - 1965) was a Cuban painter and comics artist. Born in San Antonio de los Baños, he studied at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1921. For the next decade he lived abroad, first in Spain and then in France. In Paris he became acquainted with numerous Cuban intellectuals; among them was Alejo Carpentier, who encouraged him to develop his talent to depict native Cuban themes. Encounters with the work of Jules Pascin and Marc Chagall further shaped his style. Upon his return to Cuba, Abela created the character of "El Bobo" ("The Fool") as a protest against the Machado government. This he drew for El Diario de la Marina from 1930 until 1934. Abela’s criollo character played the fool to satirize the difficult social and political situation in Cuba under Machado. In the second half of the 1930’s Abela returned to painting, employing a naturalistic style influenced by early Renaissance painting and the Mexican mural movement. At this time he focused on an idealized view of the Cuban peasant and the countryside, as seen in his most renowned painting, Los Guajiros (1938), in which the Classical sobriety and order is the result of his contact with Italian medieval and Renaissance art.

Jorge Arche (1905 - 1956)
Jorge Arche Born Santo Domingo, Cuba, 1905. Died Cadiz, Spain, 1956. Jorge Arche began to study painting at age thirteen in the Fundacion Villate of the Sociedad Economica de Amigos del Pais, located in Havana. In 1923 he entered San Alejandro, where he studied for years but did not complete the requirements for graduation. In the late 1920s he associated with Victor Manuel, following the latter's artistic orientations and advice.

Arche developed his own style in the early 1930s, as seen in one of his most renowned paintings, Retrato de Aristides Fernandez (Portrait of Aristides Fernandez, 1933 ). In this portrait of his friend and colleague (who died prematurely a year later) he found his favorite subject matter and his personal style of simplified naturalism. In the following years he recorded himself, his wife, leading intellectuals and artists of his generation, and the apostle of Cuban independence, Jose Marti, in portraits of increasing realistic details, chromatic intensity, and polished surfaces. A salient example is Retrato de Fernando Ortiz (Portrait of Fernando Ortiz, 1941). Arche also painted genre scenes--La carta (The Letter, 1935) and Jugadores de domino (Domino Players, 1941) are examples--and scenes of work--such as Trabajadores (Workers, 1938) and Castillo de Atares (stares Fortress, 1941). Although his style represented a purification and restatement of academic art, rather than a break with it, he nevertheless joined the ranks of the vanguardia movement.

World (Social) Realist Art (Index of Countries)
This blog page is part of an ongoing project by artist and part-time lecturer Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin ( to explore Realist / Social Realist art from around the world. The term Realism is used in its broadest sense to include 19th century Realism and Naturalism as well as 20th century Impressionism (which after all was following in the path of Courbet and Millet). Social Realism covers art that seeks to examine the living and working conditions of ordinary people (examples include German Expressionism, American Ashcan School and the Mexican Muralists).

Click here for (Social) Realist Art Definitions, World (Social) Realism and Global Solidarity, Art and Politics, Social Realism in history and Country Index.

Suggestions for appropriate artists from around the world welcome to

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