Mario Carreño (Cuban 1913-1999)
PROPERTY OF A SOUTH AMERICAN COLLECTION
Mario Carreño (Cuban 1913-1999)

La hora de la sandía

Details
Mario Carreño (Cuban 1913-1999)
La hora de la sandía
signed and dated 'Carreño 70' (lower left) signed and dated again and titled 'Mario Carreño, La hora de la sandía, 1970' (on the back stretcher bar)
oil on canvas
38¼ x 51¼ in. (97 x 130 cm.)
Painted in 1970.
Provenance
Acquired from the artist.

Lot Essay

Mario Carreño belonged to the second generation of modernist painters in Cuba, those that emerged in the late 1930s and early 1940s in the city of Havana. After 1957, when he married a Chilean and moved to that country, his art also belongs to the culture of that Andean nation. Born in Havana, Carreño was something of a child prodigy, studying both music and art at an early age, eventually attending the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts in his native city (1925-30), continuing his studies at the San Fernando Academy in Madrid (1932-35), and apprenticing in Mexico with the Dominican painter Jaime Colson (1936). Colson was a key figure in introducing neo-classical concepts in painting in Latin America; within this the emphasis on the female nude was essential--the centrality of the nude had a profound effect throughout Carreño's work. Carreño's pictorial production is vast, consisting of easel paintings, works on paper, murals and prints. His oeuvre can be classified into five distinct phases: neo-classical (1937-43); Mexican muralist influence (1943-44); organic-geometric; (1945-52); hard edge geometric (1952-62); and what the artist himself called "a petrified and silent world" during his last four decades (1963-99). In its essence, this last body of work examined the organic disintegration produced by the atomic bomb; it is an art charged with tension, where carnal sensuality is juxtaposed against the silence of nothingness. The visual language of these works is profoundly metaphorical, and it can be argued that it is reflective of the poetry of Chilean writer Pablo Neruda, who was a long-time friend of Carreño.(1)

La hora de la sandía, 1970, belongs to the fifth and last phase of his art. Together with such paintings as Sonata de la piedra y de la carne (Museum of the Americas, Washington, D.C.) and Ausencia del poeta (Private Collection), it is a major work from this period. The painting is a synthesis of flat geometric/organic forms with fully defined elements, such as female nudes, fruit and drapery which evoke a dream-like, metaphysical quality. This seems a paradox; reconciling geometric and organic forms, rationality and dreams, the cerebral and the sensual. Carreño pulls this off visually due to his magisterial métier as a painter--his ability to convincingly paint flesh, drapery and fruit against flat shapes that evoke the human body. The title references the slice of watermelon placed in the bowl on the right side of the painting. The female forms interlock with each other throughout the composition as the drapery falls on and around them. The sensual application of the paint is contained within the precise and classicizing outlines of the shapes. Compositional balance is achieved between the vertical and horizontal structures of the surface. The bodies, like the orange and watermelon in the work, are appetizing, and yet, time stands still, freezing them between memory and desire.

Alejandro Anreus, Ph.D.

1) Carreño and Neruda met initially in Europe in 1938. They reinforced their friendship when the poet visited Cuba in 1942 and Carreño was married to the heiress Mara Luisa Gómez Mena. The friendship continued after the painter moved to Chile in the late 1950s until Neruda's death in 1973.
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