Domingo Ravenet, Cuban (1905 - 1969)

Painter, muralist, sculptor, illustrator, teacher, curator, writer… Domingo Ravenet was the Renaissance man of the Cuban Avant Guarde generation. To him, like to the rest of that generation, art was a calling and working to improve the plight of the visual arts in Cuba was a duty. His significant contributions to Cuban art during the critical decades of the 1930s and 1940s, was multifaceted and lasting.

Ravenet the artist was at the forefront of launching the modernist movement in Cuban art. Along with Eduardo Abela, Víctor Manuel, Antonio Gattorno, Carlos Enríquez, and Amelia Peláez, among others, he succeeded in bringing Cuban art into the twentieth century. After graduating from Cuba’s Art Academy Cum Laude, he soon realized the limitations of that education. In 1927, he joined a wave of young fellow artists, who with little more than the clothes on their back, went to Paris and Madrid to expand their cultural and artistic horizons. There, he developed a highly personal expressionistic style with an accent on vivid colors. On his return to Cuba in 1934, he exhibited the fruits of his labor in personal and collective shows at the Universidad de la Habana, the Lyceum, the Círculo de Amigos de la Cultura Francesa, and the Primer Salón Nacional de Pintura y Escultura, where he won an award for his painting Ligeía Today this painting is part of the permanent exhibition of modern art at the Museo Nacional de Cuba. His new style baffled the old-guard, but was recognized by the more progressive critics of that time. Perhaps his greatest contribution as an artist was his pioneering work in fresco painting from 1937 to the late 1940s. Unfortunately, all of his murals have been destroyed or covered up, and exist only in the form of photographs.

Ravenet’s contribution to Cuban art, however, is much larger than helping to bring a new direction to painting. He taught legions of teachers and artists, wrote and dictated conferences on art pedagogy, brought together a group of colleagues to Santa Clara to work on one of the first fresco murals painted in Cuba, illustrated books by the foremost writers of his generation, carved and cast public monuments in Cuba and abroad, introduced the method of cast iron sculpture to the island, and curated some of the most important art exhibitions of the Republican period. Among those exhibitions, La Mujer a través del Arte, El Arte en Cuba, 300 Años de Arte en Cuba, Arte Cubano Contemporáneo, and Exposición de Cartografía, Urbanismo, Fotografía, y Grabados antiguos de Cuba reached a wide audience and put the visual arts on the cultural map of Cuba. The ones on Colonial art were the first surveys on the subject, concretely acknowledging that Cuba had a tradition of colonial art worthy of scholarly and public attention. Most of them were accompanied by beautiful and informative catalogues, which, as pointed by the critic Guy Pérez Cisneros, “constituted for a long time the only library on Cuban art.”1 Ironically, for someone who did so much to preserve Cuba’s artistic memory, his art and cultural work is hardly documented and remembered.The untiring Ravenet also found the time to be an active participant in a large circle of family and friends, who were the cream of the Cuban professional class, and whose survivors speak of him with love and admiration. One of them, his nephew Carlos Padial, has made it his labor of love to make Ravenet’s work better known today. Over the years he has gathered a considerable archive, and acquired important paintings by the artist. In this exhibition, to commemorate Ravenet’s centenary, Padial gives us a glimpse of his invaluable rescue efforts and offers us a window into Ravenet the painter.

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