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September 16, 2022

Acquisition: Mariano Rodríguez Painting Explores Cuban National Culture

Mariano Rodríguez, 'Reunión en la OEA'

Mariano Rodríguez
Reunión en la OEA
, 1965
oil on canvas
59 x 75 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Lourdes and Alejandro Rodríguez

Mariano Rodríguez (1912–1990) was a major figure of the Vanguardia (Cuban avant-garde), a multifaceted group of artists who were deeply committed to forging a modern Cuban art in the first half of the 20th century. He was part of the second generation of artists who absorbed and transformed global art movements to express Cuban national culture. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Rodríguez’s Reunión en la OEA (1965), an ambitious painting from the artist’s later career.

The painting is tied to the rise of Nueva Figuración (New Figuration), a mid-20th-century Latin American artistic movement that merged abstract and figurative tendencies to express the human condition in a time of global crisis. Reunión en la OEA specifically critiques the politics of the Organization of American States (OAS) after it suspended Cuba, a founding member of the organization, following the Cuban Missile Crisis. Mariano, an avowed communist and supporter of Fidel Castro, responded to this rejection in his portrayal of a "meeting at the OAS" as a grotesque and dehumanizing scene. Scatological references, bloodied and wounded figures, and monstrous forms reminiscent of Francisco Goya’s (1746–1828) Black paintings dominate the composition. On the right-hand side, three generals stand at command, perhaps referring to emergent authoritarian regimes in Latin America, while the red and white striped pattern in the upper left recalls the United States flag, a reference to the nation that led the effort to eject Cuba from the OAS.  

During the 1930s Mariano studied in Mexico, where he was drawn to artists affiliated with the Contemporáneos magazine, especially his teacher, Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, who favored easel painting and aesthetic experimentation and shunned politically explicit art. After returning to Cuba, Mariano devoted himself to painting scenes of daily life populated by monumental and mythical figures evocative of a multiracial Cuban population. In the 1940s he became known for his rooster paintings, portraying monumental and close-up views of this ubiquitous animal of the Cuban countryside.

Mariano Rodríguez was a founding member of the influential cultural group centered around the magazine Orígenes (1945–1956). He embraced a neo-baroque sensibility that favored expressionism and references to Cuban subjects. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Mariano traveled to the United States, where he encountered the work of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), as well as the abstract art scene in New York. By the 1950s he began fusing geometric and biomorphic forms, but never fully abandoned figuration.

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