Concerning the Bicentennial of the Academia de San Alejandro

/ 1 December, 2017

In general, there is a tendency to emphasize the deficiencies and limitations of the educational system established in Cuba in the early 20th century and to reject outright the influence its institutions might have had in the preparation and schooling of the young artists that burst upon the intellectual and artistic scene in the 1920s. At least that perspective has prevailed in the art sphere in which la Academia de San Alejandro played a leading role.

However, one cannot overlook the fact that the fist generations of artists in the Republic were trained in its classrooms, both those who aimed to guarantee the continuity of its models, as well as most of those who took up renewing them and who later on would be identified as the forerunners of avant-gardism in Cuban art.

(…) Since its foundation in 1818, San Alejandro was a free institution that at first was under the auspices of the Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País. In 1863, the State took charge and it became part of the general system of education. It was then, according to Jorge Mañach, “when due to ingratitude or ignorance its name was changed to that of Escuela Profesional de Pintura y Escultura de la Habana[1]. (…)

During a long time, all the directors of the Academia were foreigners. The fist Cuban to direct it was Miguel Melero Rodríguez (1836-1907). He was a painter and sculptor who became famous not only for his artworks, in which he displayed great skill, but mainly for his pedagogical work and for his contribution to the institution, which he ran from 1878 to 1907.

After being appointed director of the Academia, as he had won the competitive examination, he carried on his job for almost thirty years, which enabled him to exert an enormous influence on the generations of painters that succeeded him, passing on his liking for styles characteristic of romanticism and realism. (…) Finally, thanks to his initiative the regulations of the Academia were modified, which for the first time permitted women to access its classrooms. (…)

Miguel Melero died in 1907, leaving the direction of the school to his former disciple Luis Mendoza, who would engage in maintaining the principles of his master. In this way, Miguel Melero left his mark on the history of Cuban art with his accomplishments at the head of artistic education for more than thirty years. For better or for worse his imprint remained in force for a long time, even after his physical presence disappeared from the school corridors.

For this and many other motives, I hope this modest remembrance be an honest tribute on the centennial of his death and serve as evidence of the respect that the Academia de San Alejandro owes to the fist director of Cuban origin of our bicentennial institution.

[1] Jorge Mañach, La pintura en Cuba, Club Cubano de Bellas Artes, Havana, 1925.

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