Jorge Arche (1905-1956)
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Jorge Arche was a modern Cuban artist before his time. His oil paintings were realistic, but also full of Classical and Expressionist elements. He is considered a forerunner, along with Victor Manuel Garcia, in bringing modern styling to Cuban art. Part of the vanguard movement that took place in Havana in the 1920′s, Arche became one of the first to help define Cuban art.
Though formally trained at the San Alejandro art school, Arche never completed his studies there. He later took instruction from Victor Manuel, and was able to confide in him for artistic advice. Ironically, during the last decade of his life, he helped to organize a school in Camaguey, Cuba’s third largest city, and also taught at the Free Studio of Painting and Sculpture.
One element of Arche’s that stands out in his work is his treatment of background in portraiture. Arche mainly painted portraits, but he put exquisite detailing in the landscapes of his backgrounds. His colors are intense, and his lines are smooth and soft. The subjects in his painting always have a calming effect, and are rarely in motion or in a rigid position. This portrait of Cuban national hero José Martí is a perfect example of his treatment of portraiture-soft and Realist depictions of his subject and beautiful, almost Surrealist background landscaping.
Another fine example of Arche’s portraiture is “The Picture of Mary” (1938). Similar to the style of Surrealist Salvador Dalí, Arche’s subject, Mary, is almost illuminated from behind. Also like Dalí, the background treatment has a whimsical and dreamlike feel.
The Picture of Mary
Though a Realist Modern painter, Arche used many elements of style that the Impressionists used. He placed great importance on light and dark and used them in his portraits. One of his most renowned portraits is “Domino Players” (1941). In this painting, the subject and the background are clearly illuminated, though the lighting is different for each, giving a more realistic look. Arche also uses saturated colors and realistic shading under the table, giving the painting a dreamy look.
To someone not native to Cuban culture, this painting may seem a little odd. If this were an American painting, the men would perhaps have cards in their hands instead of dominos. In fact, dominos is a very popular game in Cuba, called the second national sport by some. This was another way for Arche to commemorate his heritage and help to build the vanguard movement of defining Cuba’s culture.
Though Arche usually had a bright color palette, he was also able to paint in darker tones with his famous self-portrait “My Woman and I” (1937).
My Woman and I
This portrait was done before Arche began exploring with landscaping, and is done with an interior background. One surefire way to tell whether you have an Arche or not is to compare the date it was painted with the style of the background. Much of his earlier work did not incorporate landscape backgrounds.
For each of Arche’s scenes or portraits, there seems to be a theme, whether it is a relaxing day, a game of dominos or just catching someone off guard. There always seems to be something going on beneath the surface of his subjects. Each portrait is personalized, and seems to bring out some of the true nature of the subject.
Most of Arche’s work is housed in Cuba in private collections and the national museum. However, he made many trips to Mexico, painting landscapes and scenes of the native people there. Though he lived most of his life in Cuba, Arche died in Spain, and also studied and worked abroad. This leaves a wide open possibility for some of his un-catalogued work to exist in the Americas or in Europe.
Many contemporary artists today cite Arche as inspiration for their own work. One such artist is Monica Arche, his granddaughter, who works and lives in Miami. Throughout his career, Arche exhibited often and won many awards. He was well-known and sought after in Cuba during his life, and is now considered one of the great masters of Cuban art.
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