Audio: Carlos Enríquez, El Hurón Azul
Carlos Enríquez (Cuban 1900-1957)
1 More
Carlos Enríquez (Cuban 1900-1957)

El Hurón Azul

Carlos Enríquez (Cuban 1900-1957)
El Hurón Azul
signed 'Carlos Enríquez' (lower right)
oil on canvas
22 5/8 x 18 in. (58.5 x 26.5 cm.)
Painted in 1953.

By descent to Isabetta Enríquez de Lancella, Havana.
Acquired from the above circa late 1950s.

J. A. Martínez, Carlos Enríquez: The Painter of Cuban Ballads, Miami, Cernuda Arte, 2010, pp. 77 and 243 (illustrated in color).
Exhibition catalogue, Carlos Enríquez: Cuban Painters Series, Miami, Museo Cubano de Arte y Cultura, 1986, (illustrated in color and titled Casa Azul con Palmas Reales).
Miami, Museo Cubano de Arte y Cultura, Carlos Enríquez: Cuban Painters Series, March 1986.

Brought to you by

Camila Femenias
Camila Femenias

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Fundación Arte Cubano for their assistance cataloguing this work.

Carlos Enríquez, one of the pioneers of Cuban modern art, is best known for his use of transparent color forms and dynamic compositions, representing landscapes, equestrian figures, peasants, and nudes. Enríquez studied art briefly at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in 1925, where he met his first wife, the American painter Alice Neel, lived in New York from 1927 to 1930, and then resided in Madrid and Paris between 1930 and 1934, before returning to Cuba for the remainder of his life. Some of his best-known paintings like El Rey de los campos de Cuba (1934), Rapto de las mulatas (1938), Dos Ríos (1939) and Bandolero criollo (1943) all painted upon his return to his homeland are icons of Cuban modernism.

In the late 1930s, Enríquez built a house-studio on the outskirts of Havana, which he named El Hurón Azul (The Blue Ferret). Perhaps an ironic reference to the German avant-garde group, the Blue Rider, a European avant-garde movement founded in 1911 by artists Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc and whose main concern was the expression of spirituality through abstraction and color. The Hurón Azul is a quaint small house with a studio on the second floor, surrounded by gardens and beyond that open fields with palm trees. Among the house’s outstanding features are a colonial ironwork grill in the front window, a large colonial style half circle stained-glass window on the back door, and a fresco painting of nude bathers in the living room. The high point of Enríquez’s life in the Hurón Azul was the early 1940s, when he shared the place with his second wife Eva Fréjaville. During that time the couple held Sunday afternoon gatherings attended by noteworthy artists and intellectuals from Cuba and abroad. The eclectic guests list included: the artists Félix Ayón, Luis Martínez Pedro, Marcelo Pogolotti, Víctor Manuel, Felipe Orlando, and on one occasion Wifredo Lam; the caricaturist Juan David; the poets Nicolás Guillén and Félix Pita Rodríguez; the novelist Enrique Labrador Ruíz; the engineer and cultural activist Jorge Fernández de Castro; the cultural critic, essayist, and Communist Party leader Juan Marinello; the attorney and cultural folklorist Agustín Guerra; and the socialite Sará Hernández Catá. The Sunday tropical salons at the Hurón Azul were legendary among the Cuban intelligentsia.

Following Enriquez’s death in 1957, the Hurón Azul remained closed until it was eventually restored in the 1980s and converted into a museum. But Enríquez’s life and work after 1939 will always be closely associated with this home studio and the numerous drawings and watercolors of the home and its surrounding gardens are a testament to his beloved Hurón Azul. Yet the present work from 1953 should not be viewed as a “portrait” of Enríquez’s house-studio. Indeed when El Hurón Azul was exhibited in the 1986 retrospective of Carlos Enríquez’s work at the Museo Cubano de Arte y Cultura in Miami, it was more accurately titled Casa azul con palmas reales (Blue House with Royal Palm Trees). However, the painting certainly suggests the character and spirit of the place, including its once lush vegetation. In its use of color: ultramarine blue and forest green with dashes of crimson, ochre, and white, as well as in its quick brushstrokes, the painting is classic Enríquez. Also typical of his style is the wind swept landscape with the poetic touch of birds fluttering around. El Hurón Azul is also an excellent example of Enríquez’s work from the 1950s in which he simplified forms and emboldened the application of pigment.

Juan A. Martínez, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Florida International University

“Carlos would welcome friends on Sunday,” Graziella Pogolotti recalls of childhood visits to El Hurón Azul (“The Blue Ferret”) with her father, the vanguardia artist Marcelo Pogolotti. “The consumption of rum and beer was quite high, and people would be holding forth both in- and outdoors. There would be artists and writers from Havana and from other countries. Things would begin in the morning and continue all day until late at night. They would be discussing everything having to do with literature and art. Nobody wanted to be the first to leave.”1 These beloved Sunday tertulias drew Havana’s leading intellectuals, among them the poets Nicolás Guillén and Félix Pita Rodríguez, whose portraits remain on the walls, the writers Alejo Carpentier and Juan Marinello, and the painter René Portocarrero.

Built on the rural outskirts of Havana in 1939, El Hurón Azul teemed with the telluric, Surrealist imaginary that flowed through Enríquez’s classic paintings of the Cuban landscape and its criollo mythology. The skin of a ferret, painted blue, hung on the front door as a totem; astrological signs marked the other side of the door, which opened to a room commanded by a wall-sized fresco of women bathers (Las bañistas) modeled after his second wife, the writer Eva Fréjaville. El Hurón Azul was steeped in mnemonic traces of Enríquez’s life: his study in Philadelphia in the mid-1920s (its cottage-style design is thought to be modeled on a Pennsylvania railroad station); the countryside setting, more approximate to his childhood home in Zulueta than to metropolitan Havana; and of course his painting, from the ground-floor fresco to the studio upstairs.2

Enríquez believed the house to be haunted – apocryphal footprints of ghosts are preserved on the staircase – and his painting dramatizes its setting within an otherworldly landscape.3 Towering palmas reales bend in the wind, their translucent white trunks almost ghostlike in space. Foliage frames the house all around, establishing a rhythmic, counterclockwise motion from foreground to sky. Stretched vertically, with its terracotta roof turned into a checkerboard, the painted house takes poetic liberties with the house as actually built. An upper-floor balcony replaces a wider, covered patio on the ground; Enríquez omits from view the traditional stained-glass mediopunto and the corner window that provided the light for his studio. Dreamlike and luridly clairvoyant, El Hurón Azul commingles the national alchemy of the countryside and the intimacy of home and studio, reaffirming Enríquez’s personal and artistic identity with the land.

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

1 Graziella Pogolotti, quoted in Phoebe Hoban, “House of the Blue Ferret,” ARTnews 108, no. 6 (June 2009): 60-2.
2 Hoban, “House of the Blue Ferret, ”60-2.
3 Ibid., 62.

More from Latin American Art

View All
View All