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“The San Alejandro National School of Fine Arts " and "Painting in Cuba and Cuban Painting"
Esteban Valderrama
 
The Cuban young art from San Alejandro´s classrooms



Brief history of San Alejandro: directors and significant moments
Colonial times. In the beginnings of the 19th Century, the Italian painter José Perovani, brought by Espáda Bishop, came to Havana for decorating its Cathedral, Perovani would be the first one on talking about an academy of painting, but the idea did not gain acceptance for lack of means, and he opens his own teaching workshop, thus paving the way for the future Academy. January 11th, 1818 is the date of the foundation of the Free Academy of Drawing and Painting of Havana, when it was officially acknowledged by the Real Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País (Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Country), being the French painter John Baptist Vermay, who began the organization of this centre the year before, its first director. From then on, the visual arts development in Cuba has shared the changes and ongoings of this School which took as example their European similar ones. Its workshops and studios were settled down in the Royal Society, in the Convent of Saiint Agustín (Aguiar and Teniente Rey Streets). We must refer to the participation of Espada Bishop in the Vermay´s arrival to Cuba, because he was looking for a substitute to Perovani - who had died - to keep on decorating the Cathedral, as well as the the steps taken by the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya Lucientes and of the Duke D´Orleans who both wrote the introductory letters to the Espada Bishop. August 13th, 1832, the first Regulation, which among other topics, put it on records that from then on, the Free Academy of Drawing and Painting of Havana, would be named San Alejandro in memory of Alejandro Ramírez, General Superintendent, Subdelegate of Royal Treasury and Director of the Royal Economic Society, for having made possible its foundation and progress. One year later, in January 26th, 1833 – it was declared School by Royal Order of His Majesty. Section of the Royal Academy of Noble Arts of San Fernando of Madrid, with the same general teaching plan of the Patriotic Societies of 1818. When Vermay died, in 1833, he was substituted by Francisco Camilo Cuyas - one of the first students of San Alejandro - who provisionally was in charge of becoming the rector of the school, up to 1836 when his post goes to opposition. The French Guillermo Colson, with his oil painting "The Yumurí Valley ", which was exhibited for the Havana public, .was the winner Colson left Cuba in 1843, being temporarily substituted by Joseph Leclerc who was ratified in that position in 1848, when it became evident that the former would not return to the Island. In October 24th, 1848 the second Regulation of the School, encouraging the studies of modeling and perspective, was passed. In 1850 the Italian Federico Mialhe became its director, and two years later the Mayorcan sculptor Augusto Ferrant under whose sponsorship the facility settled more appropriately, when moving to a better local in July 6th, 1856, in Dragones street, number 62 (later 308) in Old Havana, where it would be for more than a century. In the second story of the building the Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Country was settled. In July 19th, 1863, when being constituted the University Council of the District, the school became jurisdiction of that district, being published in the Yearly Memory of the University, all the academic data of that course. Finally, the State took charge of the economic and educational organization of the school, under he Kingdom of Isabel II, being Francisco Cisneros Director of the school. A new Study Plan was made, by Royal Order of His Majesty.in July 2nd,, 1866, when his new name would be Professional School of Painting and Sculpture of Havana. In July, 1872, due to the troubles in the University caused by the criminal execution by a firing squad of the seven medicine students, a temporary transfer to the Convent of San Felipe took place.The Havana University was then in the Convent of San Juan of Letrán – from which the Academy was an educational center attached. This local was quickly claimed by the Damas de la Beneficencia Domiciliaria (Ladies of the Domiciliary Charity), and the School returned to its local in Dragones St. Nº 62, seriously damaged in its Gallery of paintings and sculptures. The teaching suffers the effect of Don Pelayo González insults, Head of Public Instruction, during the government of the General Captain Valmaseda who considered both institutions "focuses of insurrection." In 1878 a Creole professor joined the reduced Faculty of Professors of San Alejandro, Miguel Melero and Rodríguez who developed bright oppositions to become its director. If foreign names had prevailed among the professors of the Academy until then, from this moment on, its directors would be Cubans. For 29 years Melero would be its principal, owing to him the introduction of the preparation of gray as basic mean of valuation, the women studying in the Academy and the establishment of clases with living models. In 1883 the School officially joined to the University Council and its awarded students attended the Magna Hall of the University,in the Convent of San Juan de Letrán, to receive their diplomas.
Republican years. During the North American intervention, following after the end of the Independence War in 1898, a reorganization of the university studies and means is imposed, through the Order Nº 212, passed in November 4th, 1899, being published a new Plan of Studies for San Alejandro Academy in November 8th of that very year in the Gaceta de La Habana. Also that year besides ratifying and appointing, prestigious professors such as Leopoldo Romañach, the Colonel of the Liberating Army (Mambí), Armando G. Menocal whose work will fill a long period of the republican life, and it will be in active service until his death in September of 1942, joined the Art Academy. In 1907, when Miguel Melero died, the direction of the centre was in charge of Professor Luis Mendoza and Sandrino for almost twenty years. One of the most important transformations during the Republic, was the Reglamento (Regulation) passed in February 5th, 1927, which granted the School the ability to confer official titles of professors in its two main teaching branches: Drawing and Painting, and Drawing and Modeling. These unofficial and technical character advantages, and others as a plan of oppositions for the provision of professorships, were due to an unusual fact which deeply moved the public opinion regarding an educational imporance subject : in 1926 the Secretary of Public Instruction and Fine arts, not consulting to the chair of professors, moved from his Professorship of Coloring the professor Leopoldo Romañach, appointing director the santiaguero Juan E. Hernández Giro; this brought about a protest movement spread among the Cuban intellectuals, the press and the social institutions, until achieving return the famous teacher to his position. Soon after a Commission was appointed to study and to make a new Regulation, integrated by professors Enrique García Cabrera, Manuel Vega López and Esteban Valderrama, presided by Romañach. After that important reformation, the professor Armando G. Menocal, since Romañach didn't want to accept the position, was appointed director was designated in that very year of 1926. It is necessary to point out that Juan Emilio Hernández Giro, who had been appointed by his work as Head of the Negociado de Bellas Artes, Bibliotecas y Archivos de la Secretaría de Educación (Department of Fine arts, Libraries and Aerchives of the Secretary of Education), in favor of the material improvements and reorganization of the teaching in San Alejandro; he was appointed by the Secretary of Public Instruction as Director of Fine arts of that secretariat, in 1927. From 1933 on we shall see repeating and succeeding some names in the direction the educational facility, since in that year the time limit of three years to be in charge of that position, with no reelection and secret voting among the professors of the chair, is offcially settled. In 1934 Romañach was compelled by his colleagues to accept the Direction, being substituted by Esteban Valderrama the following year (1935). Successively the position would be in charge of : 1936 - Manuel Vega 1939 - Esteban Valderrama 1942 - Enrique García Cabrera 1946 - Domingo Fields 1947 - Mariano Miguel 1949 - Esteban Valderrama In May 1953, after a student strike in the School and its Annexed one, Enrique Caravia Montenegro is ellected director of the professorial chair on majority vote. In September of that year it is officially decreed that only the President of the Republic has the exclusive power to choose director of San Alejandro, and the dictator Fulgencio Batista appointed Esteban Valderrama for a new period in the direction of the School.. In 1959, after the Revolutionary Triumph of January 1st, to the Ministry of Education´s request, the engraving professor Carmelo González Iglesias is provisionally appointed Director of San Alejandro Arts Academy.
The Revolution. The unprecedented changes generated by the Revolutionary Triumph, in each and every political, social and cultural order of the country, would be undoutedly reflected in the history of the educational institution which will support the Revolutionary Government from its earliest beginnings. In 1959, new study plans are studied and passed, and reformations are settled from October of that very year. The first appointed director for the position will be the sculptor Florencio Gelabert, elected among three professors appointed by the Chair of Professors. In 1962 an important school improvement took place, when its classrooms and workshops are moved from the old colonial building of Dragones street, to the Flor Martiana building, in front of the obelisk of Ciudad Libertad (Freedom City). That year it was officially named Escuela Taller de Artes Plásticas de La Habana San Alejandro.(San Alejandro Workshop School of Visual Arts of Havana). The following year, the school goes to the Provincial Department of Culture, subordinated to the National Council of Culture. A new change of name took place in 1969, when the school was officially named Escuela Provincial de Artes Plásticas San Alejandro (Provincial School of Visual Arts San Alejandro). In 1976, with the creation of the Ministry of Culture, this would become the ruling organism of the educational facility. In the year 2001, after a visit by the Commander in Chief Fidel Castro, to San Alejandro's classrooms, an important donation of equipment for teaching took place, thus being inaugurated the Laboratorio de Gráfica y Arte Digital (Laboratory of Graphics and Digital Art), new specialty incorporated to the basic formation imparted in the Academy. The directors who succeeded Florencio Gelabert in this stage were: 1962 – Fausto Ramos Valdés 1963 - Josefina González Grande 1967 - Luis Fuentes Quesada 1967 - José Ramón de Lázaro Bencomo (DELARRA) 1968 - Mercedes Soto 1970 - Ahmed Safille 1972 - Roberto Martínez 1973 - Armando Prieto 1974 - Jorge Samper 1975 - Juan Sánchez Sánchez 1978 - Celia Morán 1981 - Jorge Rodríguez 1990 - Jorge Ferrero de Armas 1993 - Miguel Fagundo Batista 2000 - Sandra Fuentes Guevara (Most of the data were collected from the articles “The San Alejandro National School of Fine Arts " by Esteban Valderrama and "Painting in Cuba and Cuban Painting" by Rafael Marquina, in Libro de Cuba.Havana. 1954. p 521-525, 574-580. To increase data visit the webpage http://www.sanalejandro.cult.cu /)