"A startling change has taken place in Mario Carreño's painting.... Here color has been muted and in some cases given an almost pastel quality, while forms lean more to the abstract-expressionistic school than ever before. The resultant work marks a decisive stride in the right direction for this talented 32-year-old Cuban now residing in New York."
--Ben Wolf, The Art Digest, 1945
The young Carreño embarked on numerous travels, first to Spain in 1930 where he met artists, writers and intellectuals such as the poet Rafael Alberti, and playwright Federico García Lorca where he found employment as a graphic designer of political posters and illustrator of the magazine Octubre, among others; then to Mexico in 1936 which proved to be a turning point in the artist’s career. In Mexico, the most progressive country in the Americas at the time, Carreño worked with the muralists and met Jaime Colson, the Dominican modernist artist who became his teacher and mentor and encouraged him to immerse himself in the study of the classical world. (1) When he finally arrived in Paris in 1939 he began to discover the masterpieces of the great painters at the Louvre. The artist then travelled to Italy which proved to be fundamental in his search of the timeless classical knowledge Colson had encouraged him to embrace. Through his rigorous exploration of the classic nude in the work of the Renaissance artists, Carreño’s love for the human form found expression in so many of his great works of the forthcoming decades.
The artist’s oeuvre dating to the 1940s reveals Carreño’s extraordinary maturity for someone relatively young. His classical ideas are distinctly modern, his forms robust and dynamic and his colors, intense, and full of the light of the tropics. Works like Descubrimiento de las Antillas (Discovery of the Antilles), La muchacha del caballo (Young Girl with Horse) and, El azulejo (The Bluebird), and the present lot, are extraordinary compositions from this period. He had finally returned home to discover its irresistible splendor and paint its guajiros, verdant landscapes, and record Cuban myths in a modern visual language.
The Farm, (1945) conveys this new phase in Carreño’s aesthetic. His carefully ordered landscape prefigures his dazzling geometric abstraction which he later embraced. Carreño’s palette is dazzling and animates the figures and the lush vegetation. He partitions his composition into two registers and separates the land from the heavens endowing each realm with creatures and elements only natural to each. His trees sway with the breeze and provide shelter for birds such as the loud ruby red parrot while the sun’s rays seem to illumine the azure sky even at night. Carreño has fashioned a composition that resembles an Eden—the Cuban paradise on Earth. Like in his masterpiece El caballo en el pueblo, the artist places a noble horse at center; he is accompanied by a lovely guajira and a rooster—all symbols of lo cubano. This self-contained perfect world farm or finca, is emblematic of many small farms that dotted Cuba’s countryside. It is also Carreños’ tribute to his countrymen and an expression of his love for Cuba.
1) J. Gómez Sicre, Cuadernos de Plástica Cubana, I: Carreño, Havana: Ediciones Galerias del Prado, 1943.