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La Vanguardia: Cuban Art From the Ruibal Family Collection

Woman on Balcony

Woman on Balcony
signed and dated 'Mariano, 42' (upper right)
oil on canvas
26 1⁄8 x 30 in. (66.4 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 1942.
Rodolfo and Antonia Ruibal collection, New York and later, Riverside, California.
Rodolfo Jr. and Irene Ruibal collection, Riverside, California (by descent from the above).
By descent from the above to the present owner.
University of California, Riverside, Contemporary Cuban Paintings from the Collection of Rodolfo Ruibal, March 1956.
Further Details
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Estate of Mariano Rodríguez, signed by Dolores and Alejandro Rodríguez, dated 7 February 2024.

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Lot Essay

The famed “pintor de los gallos,” Mariano emerged as part of Cuba’s rising vanguardia in the 1940s alongside such artists as Mario Carreño, Cundo Bermúdez, and René Portocarrero. Essentially self-taught, he enrolled intermittently at the Academia San Alejandro and took classes with Alberto Peña (Peñita) in Havana. In 1936, he traveled with the sculptor Alfredo Lozano to Mexico City, its Mural movement then in full thrall; through the Cuban intellectual Juan Marinello, he came into contact with the circle of Diego Rivera and studied under the painter Manuel Rodríguez Lozano. Following his return to Cuba the next year, Mariano taught at the experimental but short-lived Estudio Libre para Pintores y Escultores, directed by Eduardo Abela. His own work developed apace, expanding to mural commissions and book illustrations, and he held his first solo exhibition at Havana’s Lyceum in January 1943. Among the protagonists of the Havana School, which coalesced by the start of the decade, he participated in the important period exhibitions of the time, among them Modern Cuban Painters, the epochal show held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1944.

“Cuban color, Cuban light, Cuban forms, and Cuban motifs are plastically and imaginatively assimilated rather than realistically represented,” observed curator Alfred H. Barr, Jr. on the occasion of Modern Cuban Painters. “Expressionism is the dominant style, whether applied to fighting cocks, sugar cane cutters, guanábanas, barber shops, bandits, nudes, angels, or hurricanes.” He noted, approvingly, that “this expressionist handling is based on a thorough discipline in drawing and a sustained interest in classic composition,” and he singled out Mariano for his “baroque facility in drawing and composition” (“Modern Cuban Painters,” Museum of Modern Art Bulletin XI, no. 5, April 1944, pp. 4-5). Woman on a Balcony exemplifies the chromatic structure and radiance that define Mariano’s best work, its florid color and decorative line—here beautifully rendering the ornamental ironwork of Old Havana—setting a genteel and pleasing scene.

“Giotto and Cezanne have deeply impressed me by their spatial sense of composition—that is, they create space with spatial forms,” Mariano reflected of his sources around this time. “And, now, Matisse and Bonnard for their rich color” (Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records, 255.31, The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York). Theses classicizing and modern references seamlessly cohere in Woman on a Balcony: its young subject sits pensively, her sculptural limbs crossed and folded as she gazes through flowering foliage out onto the city, sunlit and pastel-colored, before her. An accumulation of loose, angled brushstrokes defines the red roofs in the middle ground, doubtless a callback to Cézanne; the architecture of the buildings and balcony is softened by vibrant, incandescent color that nods to Bonnard. A dynamic energy animates the painting’s surface, from the sinuous ironwork to the dappled greenery, and color exists as a fully constructive element, lyrical and expressive in its rendering of modern (and suggestively Cuban) repose.

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

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