Four artists to know Cuban modernism

There is a question I have been thinking and studying since I started this blog: How modernism developed outside Europe and the US?

Most of us, art lovers, know all too well the Monets, Matisses and Picassos, however, we know almost nothing about the Iranian, Nigerian or Cuban modernists.

Coming from Brazil, I recognize the same intentions and motivations on the work of artists from “Semana de Arte Moderna de 22” to other movements in Latin America for example.

One common topic is the search for art the reflects the environment, the people, the subjects of your own country. Although influenced by European techniques and ideas (many studied and lived in Europe), these artists were looking to their realities, creating their visual languages

La Vanguardía Cubana 

In Cuba, this process started around the 1920s, when the artists “were searching to represent the identity, the rescue and affirmation of national values” according to author José Ramón Alonso Lorea in the article “Arte Cubano del Siglo XX” (Cuban art in the XX century).

The African influence and peasant lives appear in several works from this time. (It’s worth noticing the romantic aspects some of these images have.)

The launch of the magazine “Revista de Avanze” in 1927, is the turning point, as they promote the new European styles and cultural movements to the Cuban audience. 

It is in 1929 that Victor Manuel García (1897-1969) paints, in Paris, the work that is considered the symbol of the new Cuban art: “Gitana Tropical”. 

In this portrait, we can recognize traces of Gaugin but with added traits from the Cuban woman: a mix of Spanish, African, Peruvian and Mexican.

Gitana Tropical, 1929 - Victor Manuel Garcia
Gitana Tropical, 1929 – Victor Manuel Garcia / Image: Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Cuba


The next phase of Modernism, continued to expand the African and Creole cultural legacy and Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) painted their imagery, rituals and faith with cubist and later surrealist elements, creating an exquisite body of work. He lived in Paris for many years and was in contact with many avant-garde groups.

In the 1940s René Portocarrero (1912-1985) starts to incorporate elements of popular festivities into his compositions. His work depicts facades, interiors and rural environments in a  highly detailed manner, creating some kind of “modern baroque”. 

1. Catedral, 1942 3. Fiesta, 1946 / Both images: Artsy 2.Interior del Cerro, 1943 / Image: MNBAC

Another artist that used elements of architecture and stained glass in her work was Amelia Peláez (1896-1968). One of the few women (so far) to be recognized as part of the “vanguardías”, Amelia had a prolific career producing prints, paints and ceramics.

1. Interior con columnas, 1951 2. Costurera, 1936 3.Pez, 1960 / All images: MNBAC

If you want to know more:


This documentary tells the history of art on the island through the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Cuba collection. 


Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Cuba

Fundación de Arte Cubana 

Any thoughts, suggestions or ideas? Let me know in the comments!

Have a great week!



    1. That’s really nice to hear! I do try to focus on artists from another places than EU-USA that most people know well. 🙂


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