Fidelio Ponce de Leon (1895-1949)

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Ponce de Leon

Figures, 1935

Mystery shrouds the life of Fidelio Ponce de Leon, named by many as one of the most authentic Cuban painters of his era. His peers and fellow artists have also called him one of the best plastic artists of his time.

Born Alfredo Ramón Jesús de la Paz Fuentes Pons, the details of his life are at times sketchy. He studied at San Alejandro but it is not known if he finished his studies there. Ponce literally disappeared from the art scene from 1918-1923. It was later learned that he spent those years in a small town, teaching children to draw. During this time, it is also said that he was working in advertising, perhaps in Havana. There have even been rumors that he died of starvation, when in fact he died of complications due to tuberculosis.

Ponce de Leon

Sketch of woman with bow

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Ponce never ventured outside of Cuba for artistic training or inspiration. He traveled abroad to Russia and Mexico, but did not search for artistic instruction in Paris or other European art centers. He created almost all of his artwork in Cuba, and he received all of his formal instruction in Cuba as well. For this reason, many have called him one of the most authentic Cuban painters of his era.

Ponce de Leon

Portrait of Dr. Mario D. Cardenas Pupo

Ponce de Leon

Untitled, Portrait of a Woman

It is said by some that Ponce was a very likable person, but it is also said that he was a sad man, and even an alcoholic. It is likely that there is truth to both, but his sadness is what mostly came through in his artwork. Oil paintings, ceramics, watercolors, charcoals, engravings and papier-mâché were all part of his oeuvre, but it is his oil paintings that he is known for.

Ponce de Leon

La Niña Amadita / The Girl Amadita

A student of Romanach while at The San Alejandro Academy, he was very fond of using white space in his compositions. Religious imagery, such as Jesus and crucifixes, sad children and people sick with tuberculosis are major themes in his work. For example, “Figuras” shows his use of white and his somber themes.

Some of Ponce’s oil paintings venture towards the abstract, featuring dripping organic compositions. However, these compositions came much later in his career, between the mid to late 1040s.

Almost as common as his oil paintings are his charcoal sketches. Usually somberly themed, they are wispy portraits, which also utilize the white space that Ponce was so fond of.

Ponce de Leon

Devotional 1947 Oil on Canvas

Ponce’s style is hard to classify—whether Expressionist, Impressionist or Abstract, none would argue that he painted in the true Vanguard spirit. Today, some of his work is deteriorating due to his lack of knowledge on how to mix his oil paints; so authenticating his work has never been more important. The sooner it is in the hands of professionals, the sooner it may be restored or properly displayed.

Today Ponce’s work is housed in museums all over Cuba and has been sold to private collections for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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