In 1936 Rodríguez spent a year in Mexico City, an auspicious time when “Mexico rivaled Paris and surpassed New York in its influence upon Cuban painting” (Alfred H. Barr, Jr., “Modern Cuban Painters,” in The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, April 1944, vol. XI, p. 4). During his short but decisive residence in Mexico, Rodríguez studied at the Academia San Carlos, entering a fascinating cultural milieu that included the influential studio of Diego Rivera. Upon returning to Cuba, together with his contemporaries of the Cuban Vanguard—among them René Portocarrero (see lot 228), Amelia Peláez (see lot 223), and Víctor Manuel (see lot 225)—Rodríguez would elevate modern Cuban painting into maturity. The search for a true Latin American identity, Mexico’s original project launched a few decades prior, redirected his own vision for an authentic Cuban painting.
In direct contrast to the distinctly political themes, defined lines and earthy, muted tones that characterize Mexican Modernism, the artistic production of Cuba’s Vanguardia is marked by an expressionist color palette, baroque decoration, and a native symbolism mostly concerned with everyday Cuban themes. As noted by Alfred Barr, “Cuban color, Cuban light, Cuban forms and Cuban motifs are plastically and imaginatively assimilated rather than realistically represented. Expressionism is the dominant style whether applied to fighting coqs, sugarcane cutters, guanabanas, barbershops, bandits, nudes, angels, or hurricanes. But, almost without exception this expressionist handling of the Cuban scene is based on a thorough discipline in drawing and a sustained interest in classic composition” (ibid., p. 4)
Mujeres en un interior is a quintessential example of this style, in which Rodríguez depicts two women in an intimate space studded with vibrant colonial tiles and a bright bunch of bananas. Rodríguez’s rendering of the striking, partially nude woman in the foreground recalls stylistic conventions of the Italian Renaissance, her luxurious costume and outward-leaning posture commanding our attention. The woman in the background, seemingly unaware of the viewer, is caught amidst the pleasure of smelling a yellow and orange flower. Mujeres en un interior is an extraordinary example of the multidimensionality intrinsic to Mariano’s most revered period as he reinterprets established art historical methodologies with the personality of a generation reinventing art in the national arena, begetting a deeply idiosyncratic rendering of Cuba in the modern era.
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