“La Gitana Tropical (The Tropical Gipsy)" is the 1929 artwork that defined the borderline between traditional cuban art and the innovative vanguard art movement that followed and that soon spread to all of Latin America.
In the 1920's Victor Manuel Garcia, the author, had spent some years travelling to France, Spain and Belgium where he met with fellow artists of the School of Paris, artists that were yet absorbing the post-impressionist style and moving to embrace what we now better know as the European avant-garde period. This experience served him as a springboard to the creation of a new vanguard art form that blended his European experience with that then prevalent in Cuba.
When I first picked this little jewel up the signature was not visible, dirt had long settled on the varnish - and probably on the painting underneath - blurring the picture. But I knew that what I had in hand was a precious little masterpiece that had passed unnoticed for decades abandoned in a corner of one of those beautiful art-deco houses that bright up the tropical island.
It took me a long time to spot the outline of some writing – Victor Manuel would not always sign his early works -, hidden in the low-middle right of the painting, but I knew that the hand that had created it could not be other than that of the great artist. So I determined to explore further until I convinced myself of the real author.
Once done so, it was another matter to try to convince the authorities to let me receive clearance for the export of the work. I first had to visit the authentication office and then obtain authorization from the “Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales (The Cuban fund of Cultural Properties)”.
In the end, after a few weeks, I returned home with the little marvel you see pictured above. I had it thoroughly cleaned and yes, Victor Manuel's signature was finally well visible beneath the varnish.
Compare this 32x22 cm oil painting with that of the Gitana Tropical of the same period. I have this far seen only another similar artwork, likely painted around the late 1920's, titled “Cabeza sobre fondo azur (head on blue background)”.
But this one has a special magic about it and not just because it is a discovery I was happy to make. Its beauty comes from the use of colours, the perfect lineaments, the overall composition, the lady's dignified and 'above the commoner' expression and those eyes. Yes, the eyes. They follow you wherever you go, a little like those in Leonardo da Vinci's “La Gioconda”.
So I took the liberty to title this little masterpiece “La Gioconda Tropical”, a wordplay that well fits with this discovery. A discovery never seen before, finally recovered.