We grateful to Conrado Basulto for his assistance in confirming the authenticity of this work.
One of the most celebrated artists of the Havana School, Cundo Bermúdez evolved a consummate sui generis artistic vision over the course of a long career, subtly distilling "lo cubano" through a vibrantly modern pictorial language. Aspects of everyday life and glimmers of Havana's cultural milieu pervade the work of Bermúdez and others of the second-generation vanguardia, among them Mario Carreño, Mariano Rodríguez and René Portocarrero, who collectively elevated the Cuban vernacular to the universal stage. For Bermúdez and the rest of this generation that came of age during the 1940s, an increasingly fluent assimilation of modern forms resulted in more and more painterly and metaphorical expressions of national feeling. "Cubanizing" expression, in the authoritative contemporary opinion of the curator and diplomat José Gómez Sicre, was realized for these artists only "partly through discovering and absorbing the Cuban scene, but even more through the use of color." (1) By the time of their landmark exhibition, Modern Cuban Painters, organized by Alfred H. Barr, Jr. for New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1944, Bermúdez had arrived at his luminous mature style, praised by Barr at the time as "strong and original in its metallic color harmonies."(2)
Bermúdez would refine his brilliant chromaticism in later paintings, balancing pure colors--as in La flautista's complementary reds and greens--to maximal optical and compositional effect. A distinctive example of his elegant color harmonies, La flautista depicts the eponymous musician through a pattern of interior duplication, a kind of visual mise-en-abîme in which the elongated shape of the flautist is mirrored in the successive bright red and burgundy halos that encase her. The abstracted, geometric shapes that articulate the emerald-green dress and characteristically mask-like facial features are replicated in warm tonalities throughout the background, smoothly integrating the figure within the picture surface. Depicted here in a solo performance, the flautista was also conceived as part of a musical ensemble in Sexteto habanero, 1953, for which Bermúdez was awarded first prize three years later at the International Exhibition of the Caribbean, sponsored by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. The color-schemes are similar in the two works, but more clarified in the single flautista: here the greens are more intense, and the featured accents of white--bright highlights against her dark skin--impart a finely streamlined classicism to her feminine profile.
Musical instruments, and musicians, counted among Bermúdez's favorite subjects throughout his career. A noted aficionado of classical music and of the arts in general, Bermúdez took pleasure in the company of the cultural elite, receiving such luminaries as the composer Igor Stravinsky and violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz in his studio. Yet by his own admission, his painted musicians belonged to the workaday world of "daily life where the man does his job or plays his instrument, or the woman walks absentmindedly and sits down on a bench, or the boy has not yet begun to worry about his future. These are people conscious of themselves, but without far-reaching thoughts and feelings. They live in a special moment in which every superficial ornament disappears." For Bermúdez, the day-to-day immediacy of their existence, utterly lacking in affectation or adornment, represented no less than "the purest projection of the artist, his deepest communion with the secret and the mystery of man, sentient and alone."(3) It is in this sense that he meant us to understand the solitary flautista: her musical performance ultimately becomes, through his painterly homology, a metaphor of the daily practice of life.
1) J. Gómez Sicre, "Modern Painting in Cuba," Magazine of Art 37, no. 2 February 1944, 51.
2) A. H. Barr, "Modern Cuban Painters," The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art 11, no. 5 April 1944, 5.
3) C. Bermúdez, "[Statement]," 1943, Bermúdez Artist File, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.