RENE PORTOCARRERO (1912-1985)
Rene Portocarrero was born in the “El Cerro” district of Havana. His early work, through the 1920’s, consisted mostly of drawings. As his aesthetic personality developed, he began painting in oil, combining strong lines with rich colors. As in the case of Mariano Rodriguez, the influence of Mexican murals is quite evident in the early stages of Portocarrero’s painting. His first personal exhibit took place at the Lyceum (Havana) in 1934.
A large part of Portocarrero’s work deals with Spanish colonial subjects and Spanish-Cuban interiors. The search for national and tropical elements is superimposed on the baroque undercurrent which in large measure defines his work. Recurring in his oeuvre is also the theme of “Portraits of Flora” – a female face adorned with flowers: an entire suite of paintings executed in 1966 on this subject was presented at the Venice Biennale of that year. Also important is the series of angels, and that of cathedrals: through a long evolution, buildings and cathedrals are combined in cityscapes which developed into the central theme of the artist’s work.
He published two books of drawings: The Dream (1939), and Masks (1955), a collection of twelve drawings based on the Carnival of Cienfuegos. Throughout his life he executed several murals, using different techniques, including his “History of the Antilles”, in ceramic, for the Hotel Havana Hilton, currently known as “Habana Libre”.
Portocarrero is one of the pioneers in Cuban art, with Eduardo Abela, Victor Manuel Garcia, Amelia Pelaez, and Mariano Rodriguez, who broke with the Academic past setting their sights on the more distant horizons of the School of Paris.
He received prizes in national exhibitions including the 1951 National Prize for Painting for his tribute to the Cuban city of Trinidad. Besides the retrospectives at the National Museum of Havana in 1967 and 1982, major exhibits of Portocarrero’s work have been held at the Museum of Modem Art, New York (1943), the Museum of Art, San Francisco (1945), the Musee d’Art Modeme, Paris (1951), the Panamerican Union, Washington D.C. (1956), in Vienna, and Mexico City (1965 and 1985). Portocarrero died in Havana in 1985.
His works are in the permanent collections, among others, ofthe following institutions:
Museum of Modern Art, Sao Paulo; Museum of Modem Art, Rio de Janeiro; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Museum of Fine Arts, Caracas; Milwaukee Art Center; Panamerican Union, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Modem Art, Paris; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Art Museum, Indianapolis; Museum ofFine Arts, Montevideo; Museum of Fine Arts, Buenos Aires; Contemporary Art Institute, Lima; National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana.