Flora Fong, Ernesto García Peña & Gilberto Frometa are representatives of the generation of artists who established their professional career as artists and art professors in the 60’s, and as such revolutionized and formed the aesthetics of the new Cuban society.


The gallery ArteMorfosis celebrated it’s opening year in 2015 with solo exhibitions of these artists because they embody the taste of the Cuban Society. Their work forms part of the collection of contemporary cuban art of the ‘Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana’, and is displayed in all art fairs in Cuba and – most importantly – their work hangs on the walls of many Cuban homes; hardly a household that does not display an edition or print of these artists – they are true ambassadors of Cuban visual taste.

The exhibition shows recent works of Flora, Ernesto and Gilberto and includes a unique highlight from each one: Inspired by their exhibition in Zurich, they created a painting that is displayed for the fist time in this exhibition: Flora shows ‘Primavera en Zurich’ (Spring in Zurich), Ernesto displays ‘La Gran Marcha’ (The Great March) and Gilberto celebrates the successful termination of his exhibition with  ‘When Autumn Ends’.

As diversified the art of these three Cuban Maestros is, ArteMorfosis shows what unites them: Caribbean colors, tropical light, and Cuban ‘joie de vivre’.


Solo exhibition of the Artists: Flora Fong, Ernesto García Peña, Gilberto Frómeta

Carlos Enríquez Gómez: El rapto de las mulatas


The first avant-garde in Cuban art of the 20th Century

– Virginia Alberdi Benítez –

Chronological time does not always conform to the real time. An English historian said the European twentieth century began with the bombing of Sarajevo and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 and ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin wall.

The latter date also marked the end of the Cuban 20th Century- the Antillean nation, thereafter, has been and is a different one, even if it is also still the same- but the beginning goes back before saying good-bye to the official calendar of the previous century.

The first day of 1899, indeed, Cuba was under the government of U.S. occupation troops that had intervened in the war fought by Cubans against the Spanish colonial metropolis and that event was the starting point of a new stage in the history of this country.

Three years later, in 1902, the Republic of Cuba was born at last, not very different from the colony regarding its cultural life, although it was increasingly dependent on the nascent American powerful country.

In the Visual Arts, curiously, the influence of the American neighbor was not felt until several decades later. Painting and sculpture of the first Republican years followed the guidelines of the European Academy, dominated by a realistic aesthetics and the practice of landscape, customs scenes and portraits.

The pictorial patterns were fixed by Madrid and Paris, and in sculpture, the Italian statues were followed. It is clear that the Paris meridian was not the one that moved toward the avant-garde breakings, not even the one that was established some time before by the masters of Impressionism.

Even so, within the academic environment, whose center was in the San Alejandro Academy of Arts, we cannot ignore the impression of remarkable painters, such as Armando Menocal (1863-1942), Leopoldo Romañach (1862-1951) and Esteban Valderrama (1892-1964). Their works of art can be enjoyed in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Visual Arts) and other institutions, such as The Museum of Revolution (former Presidential Palace), the Aula Magna of the University of Havana and the gallery opened by the Office of the Historian of Havana at the College of San Geronimo.

Armando Menocal had fought in the Independence War and one of his more famous paintings shows the fall in combat of General Antonio Maceo, one of the heroes of that epic.

Craft refined and with a sumptuous palette, Esteban Valderrama highlighted for the photographic fidelity of his portraits and for giving an allegoric air to his landscapes. Romañach, who unlike his colleagues, did not travel to study in Madrid, but in Rome, was the painter who approached the most to the impressionists influences in his seascapes and influenced his disciples in the use of colors.

Cuban painting only began to stand out after the twenties, when a new generation assimilated the innovations of the European avant-garde of the Twentieth Century in search of their own language with strong nationalist connotation.

These artists have been considered as masters of the first Cuban avant-garde, were inserted into an intellectual movement of greater scope, linked to the need to rescue the republican values, clean up the political practices and to relocate Cuba in the Latin American context. Such objectives were confirmed even more after the accession in 1925 to the presidency of the Republic of Gerardo Machado, who established a dictatorship.

We can have an idea of the social climate of the time when we know the emergence and rise of a radical anti-oligarchic and anti-imperialist thinking in the Academic environment and the role of the labor union movement that led to various branches of socio-political character and therefore, also of cultural character.

The vanguard desires not only encouraged the most advanced painters, but also musicians and writers. The conscience of the African influence in the forging of the Cuban nationality and the cultural fusion was the common denominator among the compositions of Amadeo Roldán and Alejandro Garcia Caturla, the poetry of Nicolas Guillen, the anthropological research of Fernando Ortiz and the first stories of Alejo Carpentier.

So, Victor Manuel Garcia (1897-1969) realized that mixed condition upon his return from Europe, where he had learned to admire Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh. The face of the women he painted show soft and oval traits that show a fusion of ethnic origins. His most famous paintings are Gitana Tropical (Tropical Gypsy) and Mujer sentada (Seated Woman). The modernity of his painting is also evident in the geometry of his landscapes.

Víctor Manuel García: Gitana Tropical

Víctor Manuel García: Gitana Tropical (ref:

To a certain extent related to Victor Manuel through the influence of Gauguin, the painter from Havana Victor Gattorno (1904-1980) insisted on giving symbolist traits to his typical scenes, where the individuals appear with solid volumes and a pastoral attitude.

Eduardo Abela (1889-1965) looked at the Cuban countryside. While the traditional painters of landscapes used to paint forests, meadows and waterfalls without humans, Abela was interested in the people living in the rural environment. Guajiros (Farmer), a painting of 1938, is emblematic for its composition and lyrism. At this stage, it is possible to note the influence of the powerful Mexican mural paintings in his work.

Amelia Peláez (1896-1968) dedicated much of her work to show a very particular and Cuban vision of still life paintings. She got rid of what she had seen in Paris (Braque, Matisse, and the early Picasso) and began to create a new language in Cuban painting. From fruits and flowers, she passed to recreate the ornamental elements of interior architecture: screens, gratings, stained glass. She always looked in all that the way of balancing the decorative opulence and the maximum construction accuracy.

In his short life, Aristides Fernandez (1904-1934), who also dabbled in avant-garde literature, painted some of the most intense pictures in the renewal panorama of the visual arts in Cuba, such as La familia (The family), a group portrait of remarkable psychological exploration with a rural landscape just suggested in the background.

Carlos Enríquez Gómez: El rapto de las mulatas

Carlos Enríquez Gómez: El rapto de las mulatas (ref:

The great renovator of this first group of avant-gardes was Carlos Enriquez (1901-1957) who lived and travelled in Europe for several years but chose to develop the major part of his career in Cuba. He had been close to Cubism and Surrealism, took from those what interested him and found a way of painting where sensuality, hurricane-like movements and transparencies determined the warmth of the atmosphere of his paintings. That can be seen in his works of art El rapto de las mulatas (The rapture of the mulatas) and El combate (The combat).

Havana, Autumn 2015

Esteban Chartrand y Dubois: Paisaje


– By Virginia Alberdi Benítez –

The strength of the images of the Cuban contemporary artists and the interest they awaken among collectors, critics and European viewers, as evidenced by the experience of the Artemorfosis Gallery, in Zurich, have a backup history that dates back to the beginnings of the establishment of the nation in the Antillean island, when Cuba was a territory belonging to the Spanish colonial empire.

Cuba is called the key for the New World, because of its strategic position at the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico, and it is difficult to define a starting point to determine the emergence of artistic expressions with their own identity. During the sixteenth century and a good part of the XVII century, Cuba was a station in the passage of trade between America and Spain and only the establishment of religious institutions and the need of decorating mansions inhabited by the colonial authorities justified the presence of works of art, many of them of religious content, brought from Europe.

This does not mean that the image of Cuba, of its first urban sites and its landscapes, would not seduce the interest of foreigners, especially after the XVIII Century. A Frenchman, Dominique Serres, gave a graphic testimony in 1762 of the taking of Havana by the English soldiers. An artist who was born in the thirteen British colonies in North America, Elias Durnford, represented in lithographs his view of Havana and its surrounding area between 1784 and 1765.

In subsequent decades and until the late nineteenth century, several traveler artists showed the views of cities and customs in lithographs that are very appreciated at the present time. Such are the cases of Eduardo Laplante and Federico Mialhe. Also the Spanish artist, Vincent Patrick Landaluze, dedicated his work to represent vernacular scenes.

But, for a true Cuban, the credit belongs to José Nicolás de la Escalera (1734-1803), who was born in Havana from a Spanish father and a third-generation Cuban mother. Although his painting is framed in religions subjects and portraits of authorities and personalities of the colonial society, and generally follows the figurative patterns of the European art of the XVIII Century, it is possible to notice to observe in his paintings an accumulation of elements responding to a style that was starting to grow in other colonial territories of the time, subsequently called “American baroque”.

 José Nicolás de Escalera y Domínguez: Santa Bárbara

José Nicolás de Escalera y Domínguez: Santa Bárbara (ref:

Escalera’s influence is present in the church of Santa Maria del Rosario, a small town in the outskirts of Havana, and in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which exhibits his Holy Trinity, and the portraits of Don Luis de las Casas, one of the most enlightened rulers of the island, and Luis Peñalver, bishop of the Louisiana and Florida, Spanish territories by that time.

Even more a Cuban, due to his lineage, Vicente Escobar (1757-1834) was the first man of mixed-race in achieving a certain reputation among the wealthy classes by his painting talent. Those people, for once at least, turned their eyes toward a black musician friend of Escobar, who lived in the city of Cardenas, because of what is possibly the first academic portrait of an Afro-Cuban descendant in the Cuban culture. In the times of Escobar, other mixed-race individuals dedicated to painting. They had no training and served the interests of the official authorities, the clergy and the merchants who began to profit from the slave and the export of sugar.

Vicente Escobar: Jacke Quiroga

Vicente Escobar: Jacke Quiroga (ref:

But at the dawn of the nineteenth century, when the plantation economy and the sugar industry were consolidated, and the Spanish colonial empire was defeated in many countries of the Spanish America, the social structure of the island was drifting toward a reproduction of the cultural and educational practices of the metropolis in which it was possible to observe, however, the birth of a creole identity.

Among the institutions which have emerged at that time was the Academy of San Alejandro, founded in Havana in 1818. There are historians who have speculated that the Academy was created to take the black and mulattoes individuals out of the hierarchy reached in the market of the artistic orders.


The first director of the Academy was a Frenchman, Jean Baptiste Vermay (1786-1833), disciple of the famous Jacques Louis David. The pedagogic plan was based on the romantic Aesthetics, evident in the landscape painting, and that was promoted as the invariant ideal of hedonism and the distancing of everything that could involve a social questioning. The right thing was to imitate the French schools of Barbizon and Fontainebleau and maybe to approach the Hudson River American School. River. As remarking painters throughout the nineteenth century we can mention Esteban Chartrand, Valentin Sanz, and later, Juan Jorge Peoli, José Arburu y Morell, Miguel Angel Melero and Guillermo Collazo.

Esteban Chartrand y Dubois: Paisaje

Esteban Chartrand y Dubois: Paisaje (ref:

Being a Cuban was not yet to express the Cuban features in its full intensity and originality. But, at least, there was a progressive approach to what would become the National identity, a process we must consider as a starting point to understand the backgrounds of the contemporary Cuban visualization.

Havana, Summer 2015

Wifredo Lam - La Jungla

Wifredo Lam – Today

– By Virginia Alberdi Benítez –

As time passes, Wifredo Lam confirms his status as one of the most secure values of the Cuban Visual Arts in the global context and remains an essential reference of the vanguards of the Twentieth century.

A prevailing trend among art historians, that classifies artistic results in schools and aesthetic trends, often includes Lam within the Surrealist movement. But a close look at his work, taking into account its evolution and the internal dynamics of the images captured in many different formats, will show an irreducible originality, convincing and dazzling at the same time.

André Breton himself, the guru of the surrealist movement, was who earlier noticed how the Cuban painter overflowed the assumptions of that vanguard: Nobody but my friend Lam has produced, with such simplicity, the unity of the objective world and the magic world. Nobody but he has discovered the secret of physical perception and mental representation, qualities that we have tirelessly sought in surrealism, because the greatest drama of modern consciousness arises from the growing separation of these abilities”

This intense relationship between dream and reality, between the earthly and the imagined visions, goes through each one of the pieces exhibited since last September to next February in the comprehensive retrospective which these days occupies the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris.

Wilfredo Lamm Exhibit in Centre Pompidou

Wifredo Lam Exhibit in Centre Pompidou (ref: Centre Pompidou)

It is the first time that the French institution dedicates an exhibition entirely devoted to the Cuban master. They gathered 300 works including paintings, drawings, prints and ceramic pieces, from public and private collections.

Earlier in 2015, the Pompidou Center exhibited some of the pieces created in France by Lam in occasion of an exhibition in honor of Michel Leiris, where the Cuban artist cohabited with works by Picasso, Bacon, Giacometti, Masson and Miró. The new series of Lam in Europe will continue in 2016 with other personal exhibitions at the Tate Gallery, in London; and the Reina Sofia Center, in Madrid.

People visiting Havana should not miss the works of Lam exhibited in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, especially La silla (The Chair). This painting completes the vision of one of the highlights of his career, considering the links between that piece of art, and perhaps his most reproduced and cited work, La Jungla (The Jungle), from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City.

Wilfredo Lamm - La Silla

Wilfredo Lam – La Silla (ref:

Both paintings were born from the encounter of the artist with the Cuban reality in the 40s of last century, after Lam was back from his first and long European experience. He was born in Sagua la Grande, a town on the northern coast of the central region of Cuba, the son of a Chinese immigrant from Guangdong and a Cuban mixed-race descendant from black slaves and ruined Spanish colonists. While his father went on Sundays to join his expatriate countrymen, little Wifredo escaped to a vicinity house where a black community worshiped their transplanted African deities through drumming, dancing and ritual songs that preceded a profane festive celebration.

Young Lam discovered his artistic vocation for painting. “I do not know what has occurred that I paint. I think I was born a painter. This is a rather mysterious vocation, and from my youngest age I realized that, it could not be anything but a painter or a poet. However, in some order, I’ve been an abandoned individual, because I was born where nobody talked about painting or the things around this occupation. I paint since I was six years old and I was so anxious to do that I forgot everything else. I painted portraits and landscapes, but I never painted as a child. My concern for painting was, in general, much deeper,” the artist confessed to the journalist Fernando Rodriguez Sosa in 1980.

In 1916 he moved with his family to Havana, attended irregularly “San Alejandro Academy” and went to the Hall of the Association of Painters and Sculptors, in the Cuban capital. This made possible that he received a small amount of money granted by the municipality of Sagua, what the government of the time offered to relieve the needs of the “colored people with artistic talent” to travel to Spain in 1923, where he visited the Prado Museum and closely monitored the artistic renewal that took place in France and Germany.

The death of his first wife and young son in 1931 introduced a dramatic notion in his painting, in his maternities and portraits. The support of his paintings is at always the paper, motivated by economic reasons of somebody who lived a life full of poverty.

In 1937 he settled in Paris; he met Picasso, cultivated the friendship of André Breton, he exhibited with the Surrealists, visited the ‘Musée de l’Homme’ to admire ethnographic African art samples. The human faces of his compositions became echoes of ritual masks. The revelation of aesthetic maturity was then just around the corner.

After returning to Cuba in 1941, forced by the outbreak of World War II, Lam rediscovered his roots and painted several of his masterpieces. Before leaving Paris, he had illustrated the first edition of the poetry book Cuaderno de retorno al país natal (Notebook of the return to the homeland), by Aime Cesaire, from Martinique Then, the artistic was recognized as a Caribbean, than as a Cuban man.

In Havana he met the anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, who had established the concept of transcultural movement into the world of the Cuban identity. He was also in contact with the ethnologist Lydia Cabrera and her testimonial records of traces of Yoruba culture on the island.

From those experiences, Lam´s painting found a rare and explosive balance between the reflection of the telluric forces in the construction of its identifying features and expressive codes coined by Western modernity.

About that growth of the artist’s work, the poet Miguel Barnet said: “The work of Lam is the woodland, it is the jungle, the jungle as he defined it, and the elements of the jungle in this work are the jungle sticks, the stones, you can smell of sap from these roots. And this is very important because until then, people in Cuba had not really taken this factor nurturing our culture into account, that source so important in our culture, that is why Don Fernando Ortiz is interested in part in the work of Wifredo Lam and makes what is for me, the most meridian, the most luminous essay clarifying Lam’s work, maybe not so much from the point of view of the treatment of the plastic subject, but from an anthropological point of view. “

If it is necessary to find a relationship in his work, it must point to what was being discovered in writing by his compatriot Alejo Carpentier (magical realism) and in music by the Brazilian Heitor Villa – Lobos. It is no coincidence that in a written text about Lam in 1954, the Spanish poet and essayist Maria Zambrano, who lived in Cuba, did note that “the world of the tropics is not plastic, it is musical, it is orphic; Lam´s painting reveals its secrets; his paintings possess a rhythmic distribution. “ Regarding this, Lam himself agreed, as when asked to explain the contents of La jungla, he said; “Many people ask me what is the meaning of each of the elements of the picture. For example, for the body, I was inspired by sugarcane, which is the focus of our economy. But, every time you look at this painting, it can be interpreted differently. I think it’s quite appealing to the tropics, it’s like a symphony. Of course, I cannot explain it note by note, as for sensitive ears like for sensitive eyes, there is a poem hidden in the painting.”

Wifredo Lam - La Jungla

Wifredo Lam – La Jungla (ref:

That quality has been developing with time. Ritual marks, geometric configurations, traces of vegetation, creatures guessed between myth and reality form a recognizable and authentic imagery, consistently cultivated until Lam´s last years. He died in France in 1982, but his ashes rest in Havana.

About the articulation between Cuban identity and the universality of the artist, the words of the Cuban critic Nelson Herrera Ysla are really worthy: Wifredo Lam moved away from any stereotype, formula or scheme to try to sweeten or deform the hybrid, mixed culture, to which he belonged by blood, family background and heritage, and he knew how to take the best qualities of other cultures in the world.”