On January 11, 1818, the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (known as the "Academy San Alejandro", in honor of an important founder/benefactor) was established in Havana, under the direction of Frenchman Jean Baptiste Vermay (1786 - 1833).

The oldest art academy in Latin America, it is the second oldest institution of higher education in Cuba, after the University of Havana.

They returned to Cuba committed to new artistic innovation and keen to embrace the heritage of their island.

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His portraiture was firmly in the European Classical style, but had a distinctive freshness and energy.

A slave revolt culminating in neighboring Haiti's declaration of independence in 1804 proved something of a windfall for Cuba, as refugee plantation owners and their slaves relocated to the underdeveloped, underpopulated eastern portion of the island.

The radical artistic movements that transformed European art in the first decades of the century arrived in Latin America in the 1920s to form part of a vigorous current of artistic, cultural, and social innovation.

By the late 1920s, the Vanguardia artists had rejected the conventions of Cuba's national art academy, the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes “San Alejandro”, in Havana, which most of them had attended.

By the mid 1700s, native-born artists working in the European tradition were active in Cuba.

The first of these to leave a substantial, identifiable body of work was José Nicolás de la Escalera (1734 – 1804).

Vanguard leader Eduardo Abela, a painter who studied in Paris, was typical of the movement.

He discovered his homeland Cuba from abroad, apparently motivated by a combination of distance and nostalgia.

Though mostly absent of originality, his religious scenes - particularly those decorating the cupola and altar of the Church of Santa María del Rosario near Havana - are spectacular, and include the first fine art depictions of Black Cuban slaves.

Though having no formal art education himself, he opened what was possibly Cuba's first painting workshop/studio, and later graduated with honors from the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid.

However, the success of Toussaint and Dessalines' slave uprising spread intense anxiety throughout the Caribbean, and one response to it was the growth of costumbrismo - realist yet romanticized views of day-to-day life - in Cuban art.