The Faces of Modernity

/ 1 September, 2018

When facing one of fine arts’ most traditional subjects, the portrait, the academic painters have another interpretative view of Cuban modernist artists. (…)

The first successful searches took place around 1925 (…). The first to become known with significant portraits that set aside their academic experiences are Víctor Manuel García, with his powerful Retrato del pintor Ravenet (1923), in which the spectator’s attention is on the beautiful and magnetic face of the painter, when he still signed his works as Manuel García. Meanwhile, Domingo Ravenet gives us a detailed and amorous Retrato de mi madre (1923) (…). This is the threshold of other works carried out in 1925 and that established the foundations of a new exploration of the portrait. In this case we have to mention Retrato de Lilianne, by Antonio Gattorno, an innocent image of a young woman in which his unquestionable technical skill is outlined. Meanwhile, Autorretrato of the artist and Retrato de Marcelo Pogolotti, by Carlos Enríquez, are notable psychological studies of the represented characters.

We chronologically situate the three magnificent cent portraits of Arístides Fernández’ mother at around 1925. (…)

But Jorge Arche is the one who would give a definitive air to the portrait of the Cuban modernist movement. (…) Ever since his public appearance his work was convincing because of its unquestionable quality, with no trial and error or insecurities. Retrato de Arístides Fernández (…) stands out for the decanting of resources used in the composition, a firm stroke and an extreme soberness in color (…).

Another work of great importance within the genre was made by Carlos Enríquez (…). It is Retrato de Gilda (1946), in which the model assumes a comfortable position, her face irradiates kindness, sensuality and gentleness, very far from the feline attitude of Retrato de María Luisa Gómez Mena (…).

One of the new figures that will enhance decisively visual modernity on the island in the late 1930s will be Mariano Rodríguez. (…) His excellent Retrato de Zora (1937) and Autorretrato (1938) (…) are indispensable referents (…) they indicate the new direction of Cuban painting, whose center of reference goes, for a short time, from Paris to Mexico. These compositions seek to consolidate a new concept of Latin American identity.

(…) This revision of the portrait in the period of modernity enables us to affirm the validity of its artistic currentness in the most recent contemporariness. And finding imaginative answers to vindicate the possible exhaustion of the genre. From our perspective the portrait maintains its most steadfast efficacy. It will only have to wait for the new innovations that the art made in this 21st century has in store for it.

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