Estudio para Bañistas
Signed CEnríquez (lower right)
Watercolor and brush and ink on card
11 by 8 in.; 28 by 20.3 cm
“Dear Mr. Enríquez, I am interested in your pictures... there is a very fine clear feeling in them. There is genuine imagination, great clearness and a delicate elegance all of which together interest me.”
—Gertrude Stein, July 23, 1933
(Excerpt from a letter addressed to Carlos Enríquez)
A modernist interpretation of a classical theme, Bañistas (Bathers) embodies the most defining characteristic of the Cuban vanguardia of the 1930s; namely a commitment to infuse Cuban realities and popular myths into new forms of representation.
Like fellow Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, Carlos Enríquez’s return to the island in 1934 had an immediate and permanent effect in his painting: a transformative influence that determined much of his artistic trajectory. After an extended period of residence in New York, Paris and Madrid, Enríquez’s re-encounter with the Afro-Cuban traditions of his native Havana, the warmth of its people and climate, ignited an exhilarating phase in his work. From this point forward, he declared a new artistic aim, one that would “synthesize modernism and criollismo” through the conscious appropriation of certain aspects of “European Modern art, Expressionism and Surrealism in particular to visualize Cuban rural and vernacular themes” (quoted in Juan A. Martinez, Carlos Enríquez, the Painter of Cuban Ballads, Cernuda Arte, Coral Gables, 2010, p. 57).
Painted in Havana in the new pictorial style that would come to define his artistic production, Bañistas (Bathers) is an early masterwork belonging to the artist’s “romancero guajiro” or “Cuban Peasant Ballad” period; one of the finest achievements of Cuban modernism. In a lyrical scene encircled by a vividly painted forest, a nude woman with her back turned to the viewer enters a small lagoon. Directly across from her, a second bather facing toward us emerges languidly from the e translucent waters of this dreamlike moment. In contrast, the fierce agitation evoked by the quickly executed brushstrokes in the upper half of the canvas expresses an emotional parallel to the flaming tree trunks that surrounds them.
Conspicuously unaware of our voyeuristic presence, the nude who turns away—an art historical reference dating back to the seventeenth century and the voluptuous nudes of Rubens and in more modern times, those of Cézanne—“suggests not so much eroticism; it is a pose that rather alludes to the romantic notion of which Enríquez adhered, of the communion of woman with nature—and more specifically—the communion of Cuban woman with the Cuban landscape” (ibid., p. 94).
Bañistas demonstrates Enriquez’s very personal interpretation of authentic Cuban-Caribbean culture, which he believed was only to be found in the countryside. Compared to its sister painting, Las Bañistas en la laguna of 1936 (see fig. 2), part of the permanent collection of the Museo Nacional de Cuba in Havana, the present work evokes a warmer and more intimate scene. Offered along with its preparatory drawing, a vibrant and complex watercolor (see fig. 1), Bañistas (Bathers) was most recently featured in the documentary series "Grandes de la Plástica Cubana" produced by the Cuban Government's Cultural Ministry, where it was selected to represent the pictorial achievements of one of Cuba’s most illustrious sons.
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