Our cover this month, “Atardecer de Nostalgia” (47.1 in. by 33.3 in.) by Mario Carreño, sold for $99,750 at Christie’s Latin American Art Sale in New York on May 29, 2013. Carreño is, perhaps, the most famous artist ever to come out of Cuba. He’s internationally renowned and has set numerous auction records for works by Cuban painters. Interestingly, despite his worldwide success, there’s one nation in particular where Carreño is an almost complete unknown—Cuba.
As a result of Cuba’s volatile political history, its most famous artist has been written out of the history books. Carreño was born in Havana in 1913 and, by the early 1930s, had begun to achieve some acclaim as an illustrator. However, in the volatile years of the Machado government, to be an advocate of “art nouveau” was equivalent to subversion. Consequently, under the charge of “conspiracy,” Carreño’s family’s home was leveled by the secret police in 1932. He fled the country and began a career that took him all over the world, with notable stops in Spain, Paris and New York. Every few years, he would attempt to return to Cuba, but these forays never lasted long, as the government remained hostile. He had a brief stretch of peace during the 1950s, during which he exhibited, taught, wrote a column for the local art periodical and produced a number of murals on public buildings. This idyll lasted until, predictably, the government, now under Batista, intervened, chasing Carreño from the country once again because of his friendships with a number of artists considered communists. Most of the murals he created were torn down, and his name was largely stricken from Cuban history. He eventually settled into a happy life in Chile, while his home country remained largely unaware of one of its greatest exports.