Mario Carreño (1913-1999)
Mario Carreño (1913-1999)

Figuras en el palmar (also known as Under the Palm Trees)

Mario Carreño (1913-1999)
Figuras en el palmar (also known as Under the Palm Trees)
signed and dated 'Carreño-47' (lower right)
oil on canvas
20 x 24 in. (51 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1947.
Perls Galleries, New York.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 26 November 1985, lot 71.
Aquired from the above sale by the present owner.

J.Fernández Torna, Mario Carreño Selected Works/ Obras selectas, 1936-1957, Miami, Torna & Prado Fine Art, 2012, pp. 158-159 (illustrated in color).
New York, Perls Galleries, Carreño: Recent Paintings, 10 November-6 December 1947, no. 16.
Santiago, Sala del Pacífico, Carreño: Exposición de óleos, gouaches, pasteles y dibujos, 21 June-10 July 1948, no. 5.
Buenos Aires, Galería Samos, Mario Carreño, 27 June-12 July 1949, p. 12, no. 2 (illustrated).
Post lot text
1 José Gómez Sicre, Carreño, Washington D.C.: Pan American Union, 1947.

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Virgilio Garza
Virgilio Garza

Lot Essay

Verdant, heart-shaped leaves in vibrant pinks, purples, and greens provide a lush canopy for the two figures in Cuban artist Mario Carreño’s Figuras en el palmar. Depicted at leisure within the shaded grove, the women are enrobed in schematically rendered drapery, whose light tones seem to reflect the light filtering through the foliage. While one woman stands, the other reclines on the ground, her elongated shape seeming to mimic that of a stringed instrument. Perhaps a reference to Carreño’s childhood studies of the violin, the woman’s enigmatic figure lends an air of musicality to the scene, whose colors and forms seem to pulse to a syncopated, internal rhythm.
Declared “the most versatile, learned, and courageous” of the younger generation of Cuban modern artists by curator Alfred Barr, Carreño painted Figuras en el palmar during his nearly ten-year long sojourn in New York City the 1940s. While there, he taught at the New School for Social Research and participated in six exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, including the groundbreaking Modern Cuban Painters exhibition in 1944. Though still relatively young, the artist had already traveled extensively to Spain, Mexico, France, and Italy, where he had absorbed and participated in the artistic circles that each scene had to offer. These experiences, coupled with his early studies at Havana’s Academia de San Alejandro and his pioneering role within the Cuban avant-garde, propelled Carreño’s exploration of various artistic languages over the course of his career.
Figuras en el palmar reflects a synthesis of the artist’s to-date experimentation with contemporary trends gleaned from his many travels. The enrobed figures in the canvas reflect the artist’s interest in classicism; in fact, the painting presents a tropicalized version of a canonical pastoral scene. However, in contrast from Carreño’s earlier, volumetrically rendered allegorical images of the late 1930s and early 1940s, Figuras en el palmar exhibits flattened, geometric forms that blend lyrical abstraction with Cubism. These faceted forms shape the leaves and trunks of the Edenic landscape, whose composition evinces an oneiric sensibility that seems to reflect the influence of Surrealism. Indeed, interspersed and camouflaged amidst the palms are smiling serpent-like creatures, whose presence recalls the animal and vegetal hybrid forms found in paintings like The Jungle by Carreño’s compatriot, Wifredo Lam. Such multifold associations were noted by curator José Gómez Sicre. Writing for an exhibition catalogue produced by the Pan American Union in the same year that Figuras en el Palmar was created, he inscribed the artist within a contemporary, international pantheon: “this new phase of Carreño is more in line with a conceptual approach to painting, a search for inner meanings. His work is now more abstract and more organic, re-creating an elemental aesthetic world somewhat like that discovered by Paul Klee and Joan Miró in Europe, or Carlos Mérida and Rufino Tamayo in Latin America.”1
Significantly, both Lam and Carreño exhibited at the prestigious Perls Gallery, where FIguras en el palmar was first debuted as part of Carreño’s 1947 solo presentation. There, the painting’s dreamy, reverie-like quality was complemented by other classically-inspired compositions with such names as La Siesta, Nereid, and The Three Graces. Showcasing the artist’s most recent production, the exhibition represented the artist’s fourth show at the gallery, and serves as evidence of Carreño’s prolific and successful stay in New York City, before his ultimate return to Cuba in late 1951. Perhaps it was memories of home that influenced the creation of Figuras en el palmar, which seems to blend exotic fantasy with the tropical lushness of the Caribbean.
Susanna Temkin, Ph.D., Curator, El Museo del Barrio, New York

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