Test your knowledge with a quiz
- 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.
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?