The Bay of Matanzas, Cuba

American artist Charles DeWolf Brownell helped highlight the beauty of Latin American landscapes, especially of Cuba. Take a deeper dive into the work.

The Bay of Matanzas, Cuba (1860) by Charles De Wolf BrownellMilwaukee Art Museum

Cuban port
The Bay of Matanzas, about fifty miles east of Havana in Cuba, serves as a commercial port for the island, essential to trade and commerce. Although idealized, Charles DeWolf Brownell’s painting is of a specific site, unlike the invented landscapes by some of his contemporaries.

Source material
To create the scene for this painting, Brownell likely referenced sketches in charcoal and oil paint that he had made while recuperating in Cuba from a respiratory illness.

The artist spent seven consecutive winters in Cuba, staying on sugar plantations owned by his mother’s family.

The town
Brownell painted an expansive view of the town, from the orderly rows of houses to the lush tropical foliage.

Detailed foliage
As part of the foreground, the tree on the right appears closer to us than the background, which recedes far into the distance.

This composition (arrangement of the picture) reflects the influence of the Hudson River School, a group of American artists and contemporaries of Brownell’s, so named because of their depictions of New York’s Hudson River Valley.

These artists emphasized the greatness of America’s scenery through their grand landscape paintings.

Here, Brownell painted the foliage with extreme detail.

Tropical landscape
Depicting seemingly exotic locales appealed to many American painters of the time (1860). Those artists with an interest in Latin America specifically, such as Brownell, found inspiration in the work of Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859).

Humboldt described the tropical landscape in his book The Island of Cuba, which received a popular English translation in 1856.

Credits: Story

Charles De Wolf Brownell
(American, 1822–1909)
The Bay of Matanzas, Cuba, 1860
Oil on canvas
30 × 44 in. (76.2 × 111.76 cm)
Purchase, with funds from Andrew Ziegler
M2015.21
Photographer credit: John R. Glembin

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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