Cuban cigars, Cuban independence

Willard Metcalf, Havana Harbor

Willard Metcalf, Havana Harbor, 1902, oil on canvas, 46.5 x 66.4 cm (Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1992.49). Speakers: Dr. Katherine Bourguignon, Terra Foundation of American Art and Dr. Steven Zucker

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Metcalf, Havana

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Key points

  • After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Cuba was placed under U.S. government control until it was granted independence in 1902. The years of Spanish occupation had been brutal, and economic hardships had continued under American rule, but Willard Metcalf’s painting Havana Harbor does not allude to these difficulties.
  • Metcalf visited Cuba in 1902, researching for a commissioned series of paintings to be displayed in the Havana Tobacco Company store, a luxurious salesroom in New York City designed by Stanford White. The interior was designed to create a tropical vision for wealthy American consumers.
  • While Metcalf’s Impressionist brushstroke feels casual, this skillful composition carefully leads the viewer around an idealized panorama of Havana Harbor. Focusing on tropical colors and evoking the sensation of warm breezes, Metcalf erases the complicated history and troubled conditions of Cuba.

Go deeper

This painting at the Terra Foundation for American Art

Guide to the Spanish-American War at the Library of Congress

The Spanish-American War at the Smithsonian Institution

The January 1905 edition of the Architectural Record, with a review of the Havana Tobacco Company Store (pages 42-49)

Explore an exhibition about tobacco in Cuba

Read a biography of Willard Metcalf at the National Gallery of Art

More to think about

Havana Harbor erases the reality of recent Cuban history in order to sell high-end tobacco to wealthy customers in New York City. Compare this painting to Diego Rivera’s Sugar Cane, which directly confronts harsh economic realities of Latin America. How might the circumstances behind each of these commissions have influenced the way the artists portray their subjects?

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.