- Earliest Cuban paintings
- Early Colonial times
- Later Colonial years
- 19th Century
- 20th Century
- Art by Cuban exiles
- Cuban Artists
It took Cuban art several centuries to begin emerging. During the 15th and 16th centuries its growth was stunted due to lack of funding and general encouragement. However, things changed especially in the 18th and 19th centuries. Foreign artists, mainly illustrators and graphic artists came to the island and began representing the towns, local customs and landscapes. These lithographic artists were often French, although other nationalities were also present, such as North American.
The first Cuban graphic artist was Francisco Javier Báez. He focused mainly on religious themes but also created drawings for tobacco and cigar brands. Originally art had taken on a mystic role, as the way of portraying religious themes and concepts. The artists, or rather craftsmen as they were referred to, that produced these works were mulattos or blacks. Some of the better known ‘craftsmen’ of that time included José Nicolás de la Escalera y Domínguez and Tadeo Chirino.
When Cuba experienced its economic boom due to the sudden growth of the sugar industry, its cultural aspects were influenced, especially in artistic circles. An association called La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del Pays (Economic Society of Friends of the Country) was founded by intellectual circles and it was also a time when many schools and universities emerged.
Portraits and aristocratic paintings started becoming popular, as a new wealthy bourgeoisie class emerged. Many paintings were commissioned by these families and among the portrait painters were Cubans such as Juan del Río and Vicente Escobar y de Flores, whose style was based largely on Spanish and other European works.
In 1818 the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes was founded in an attempt to promote artistic learning and steer it away from blacks and mulattos, who until now were the main producers of art. The director of the Academy was Frenchman Juan Bautiste Vermay (a pupil of the master David) and the style of art taught here was of course, European, but which had become outdated in Europe by that time. A long line of directors of the Academy followed most of them being French or Italian until Meleros, a Cuban national, took up the position. Ever since, the directors of the Fine Arts Academy have been Cubans.