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Oil on canvas, 92 x 122 cm (36.2 x 48 in), 1934. Collection of the Fine Arts National Museum of Cuba.

   “Religious painter” may be a precise definition for Fidelio Ponce de León (Camagüey, Cuba, 1895-1949), although not only because of his Catholic tradition or his paintings of Christ and beatified saints, but also because of his willingness to represent psychological depth and the manifestations of spirituality in a world that can be strange and painful. The environment that he captures is, unlike his contemporaries, unconcerned with the problems of national identity, folklore or the vision of Cuba and instead focused on a daily life that shines through religious goodness, where suffering fits, with characters that could be covered with a mystical halo that is always linked to the real future, perhaps in the style of Murillo. The landscapes in his paintings, which could hardly be classified as typical Cuban, do not have a physical reference but a spiritual one and seem connected to a hazy vision full of drama and enigma: physical stasis mixed with emotional intensity.

   Referents such as Romañach and Modigliani dazzle a nomadic Fidelio on an island he never left, a fan of music, delirious and transgressive, who builds a style derived from expressionism, impressionism and abstraction, although without respecting any of its rules too much. The regional environment is strongly blurred between sepia, gray whites, sienna, bladder green, ochres, grayish blues that, compared to the colors of the tropics, make up an almost monochrome palette. In his stroke, the sinuous lines and the elongated proportions always pursue a simplification of the figurative representation to promote an emotional connection from dense fillings, glazes, scratches, physical interventions on the work itself and the dilution of the forms with color splices. His characters have dresses, disguises to be more exact, as almost the only symbol of contact with reality, thus highlighting their human condition rather than spectral. In all of them there is a sample of physical and emotional pain that converge towards the deterioration of both the will and the body. Event that Fidelio knew very well, above all, at the end of his life when he was ill with consumption.


   Perhaps in a premonitory way a few years before contracting the disease, he painted Tuberculosis (1934, Oil on canvas, 92 x 122 cm), an elaborate work where the reinforcement of the drives, which can come from dark or light areas of the soul and body, clarifies the formal and conceptual solutions. Some ghostly characters, a nurse nun and a family with a girl, contemplate static in a background that contributes to the uneasiness caused by the image, finished off by a skull and the gentle inclination of the girl's head seeking in vain consolation. Pessimism, suffering and hopelessness flood the work where the white of the garments appears as an antidote against the contamination of deformed and corroded bodies. The thick textures for the ocher, pink, blue, white and bladder green tones have modifications made not only with a brush, giving the morbid environment an even more grotesque and dreamlike character, probably in memory of the experiences lived by Fidelio in the Cuba of that moment: historical context of upheaval and uncertainty. This piece seems like a deformed family photo that manages to capture the destroyed feeling of what surrounds them.

Tuberculosis (detail)

Tuberculosis (detail)

Tuberculosis (detail)

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