Born at the turn of the last century, Castaño briefly attended Havana's prestigious Academia San Alejandro, and despite never graduating from art school went on to become a highly accomplished painter and trailblazing figure in the history of modern art in Cuba.
Active primarily during the 1930s, it was during these years that Castaño befriended the American writer Ernest Hemingway who frequented the island often on his yacht El Pillar with his friends--"Sloppy" Joe Russell, Charles Thompson, John Dos Passos, Arnold Samuelson, and then wife Pauline Pfieffer. Hemingway's circle of friends in Cuba also included the vanguard painter Antonio Gattorno and the American jet setting couple Grant Mason (then manager of Pan American Airlines) and his glamorous wife Jane Kendall Mason, heiress to the Kendall fortune. The latter, an avid arts lover was instrumental in securing sponsorship for the then struggling young artist Castaño who was moonlighting as a night watchman in a local warehouse.
Mason's generous patronage enabled the artist to spend one year in the town of Trinidad located in South Central Cuba. It was here that the prodigious artist would paint one of his most impactful and significant bodies of work--notable for its artistic quality and costumbrismo in the lineage of such 19th century masters as Victor Patricio de Landaluze and Frederic Miahle. Castaño's works from his Trinidad period (of which the present lot is an excellent example) as well as the bulk of his production such as the present lot focus on Afro-Cuban life, traditions, and rituals, but unlike his nineteenth-century predecessors rendered within a quintessential modernist vocabulary that embraced the nationalist tenets of the Cuban vanguard generation.
In 1933 Castaño exhibited the bulk of the works he had painted in Trinidad during his first solo exhibition in the United States at Arden Galleries in New York City. Orchestrated by Jane Mason who secured sponsorship from such luminaries as President Gerardo Machado (six months before he was overthrown), the actress Betty Hutton, the Cuban Ambassador to the United States, a member of the Guggenheim family, and from Hemingway himself--the exhibition was a resounding success with works acquired by the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum, among others.
Although Castaño remained active thereafter his work soon fell out of step with the objectives of the new government and the artist shifted his creative production towards interior design and illustration. And, while his name has been seemingly banished from the history of "la vanguardia" his powerful work may still be seen in Havana at the Clínica de los Hermanos Mayo where one of his epic murals still graces the walls as a perennial reminder of one of Cuba's pioneering modernists.