This painting formerly belonged to the distinguished architect and city planner Paul Lester Wiener. Mr. Wiener and his partner, Jos Luis Sert, were the authors of Plan Piloto de la Habana that was being developed during the last years of the Batista presidency. Mr. Wiener spent a considerable amount of time in Havana in the late fifties, where he met the major artistic figures, among them Amelia Pelez. This painting was acquired directly from the artist in March of 1957.
The past ten years have seen many international exhibitions organized in Europe, as well as North and South America, dedicated to the art of Amelia Pelez. It has become clear to a wide public that she, along with Wifredo Lam, are the most important and influential figures in the history of modern art in Cuba. What is more, Amelia (as she is so often called), ranks with such figures as Tarsila do Amaral and Frida Kahlo (with whom she shared center stage in a monumental exhibition in Madrid and Barcelona in 1997) as the highest stars in the firmament of enormously talented women artists that have participated in the unfolding drama of twentieth century Latin American art.
Thoroughly trained in the most up-to-date modes of international art in the 1920s and 1930s, Amelia benefited from studies at the Art Students League in New York (1924) and from her extensive stay in Europe (1927-1934). Paris was her home during this period and she formed an integral part of her generation of modernists in the visual arts, including contemporary French masters, as well as emigr artists such as the Russian painter and stage designer Alexandra Exter, with whom she worked and studied. Amelia returned to Havana and developed her highly distinct mode of self expression in her paintings, graphic works and eventually, her ceramics and murals. The inspiration she found in the distinct architectural styles of her native Havana (most importantly the stained glass fan lights), as well as the flora and fauna of the region which she cultivated in her garden in the Vbora suburb of the Cuban capital, have often been noted as salient characteristics of her art.
The Composicin offered for sale here is an outstanding example of her later work. Executed in 1956, toward the end of what would become the most tumultuous decade in her nation's history, this painting comprehends several prominent aspects of Amelia's art. While we may speak, when referring to this work, of a continuing inspiration of the stained glass of Cuban colonial architecture (the colors in this piece are particularly intense), we must also point out that Composicin represents, in effect, the high point of a continuing trend on Pelez's part toward pure abstraction (even though one can sense, however vaguely, the presence of two human profiles here). This painting is a key work in the artist's late period re-consideration of the powers of abstraction and may also be contemplated as a barometer of her inquiry into the meanings of the semi-abstract figuration of Picasso in the 1940s and 1950s.
Composicin must also be observed in the light of one of the other major forms of artistic expression developed by Amelia in the 1950s - the art of ceramics. This decade witnessed the artist experimenting more and more with three-dimensional form, becoming, at times, more devoted to it than to painting. The flat patterns, bold colors and forms that distinguish her ceramics provide us with a basis of comprehending the prominence of broad areas of unnuanced color in this picture. The 1950s was also the decade in which Amelia received several highly important mural commissions for public structures in Havana which she realized in either ceramic tile or fresco. The large spaces on the facades of the Havana Hilton Hotel or the Ministry of the Interior required bold, semi-abstract images. The strength and power of these forms continue in this extremely significant painting which, in fact, sums up the work of the greatly productive decade of the 1950s in Amelia's career.
Edward J. Sullivan
New York 1998