Unidentified artist, detail, Calle Obrapía 158, late 18th to early/mid 19th c., fresco or semi-fresco[?]


The elements of this painting, from Calle Obrapía 158, are quite similar to the paintings at Calle Obrapía 112, which suggests a standardization of the designs by the mid-nineteenth century and perhaps the use of stencils. The paintings also approximate the designs of wallpaper, while being less expensive. As literary scholar Sibylle Fischer writes: “It appears, then, that between the late eighteenth century and the mid-nineteenth century, the taste of the Creole elite underwent considerable change, and that while the popular classes continued to appreciate fanciful decorations of their houses, the elite abandoned this custom in favor of more Europeanized styles of decoration […]” (Fischer 2004, 65). The Europeanization of design corresponds to a moment in which elites also attempted to remove the visual arts from the hands of free men of color, who dominated the sphere. Their efforts culminated in the foundation of Cuba’s first fine arts academy in 1818, the Academia de San Alejandro, where free men of color were excluded from studying. Thus, while colonial elites may have struggled to “sanitize” works in practice due to the prevalence of black painters, they could at least refine the paintings’ visual aesthetics through the Europeanization of style.