We are grateful to Fundación Arte Cubano for their assistance cataloguing this work.
An eccentric, yet essential figure in Cuban art, Fidelio Ponce de León produced a unique oeuvre commensurate with his enigmatic personality. In contrast with many of his artistic contemporaries, the artist, born Alfonso Fuentes Pons, shied away from exuberant, “tropical” colors in favor of a muted, at times even monochromatic palette, which often lend his subjects a spectral air. The idiosyncratic nature of Ponce’s work was recognized by critics both in Cuba and abroad. Indeed, on the occasion of the Museum of Modern Art’s groundbreaking 1944 exhibition Modern Cuban Painters, Alfred H. Barr praised the artist, pronouncing that the painter’s “intuitive expressionism is highly personal.”
Depicting a young woman in an ornate, domestic interior, the half-length portrait Joven con pecera reflects Ponce’s affinity for figurative subjects, and in particular women and children. Such subject matter perhaps reflects Ponce’s brief studies under Leopoldo Romañach, regarded as a masterful portraitist and the teacher to many members of Cuba’s vanguardia generation. However, while Ponce evinces certain fin-de-siècle evocations, the angularity of his figures and the dramatic, nearly anti-naturalistic lighting effects alludes to his affinity for avant-garde figures such as Modigliani. Although Ponce never traveled to Europe, he avivdly studied the work of international artists through reproduction, and it is likely that the presence of a fishbowl in Joven con pecera, is a homage to Matisse. Notably, this work was created in the same year that Ponce was awarded a prize at Cuba’s National Salon for his painting, Beatas, now in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana.
Susanna Temkin, PhD, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
1 Alfred H. Barr, Jr. “Modern Cuban Painters.” Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, vol. 11, no. 5, (April 1944), 3.