Manuel Carbonell

Manuel Carbonell (October 25, 1918 – November 10, 2011)[1] was a Cuban Contemporary and Modern artist, regarded as among the greatest Cuban sculptors of his generation. He was part of the generation of Cuban artists that includes Wifredo Lam and Agustín Cárdenas, that studied at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes "San Alejandro", Havana, Cuba. Carbonell's inexhaustible vision and his ever-changing style is the product of a brilliant talent with an academic background. Ceaselessly searching for the essence of form and the absence of details, he empowered a sense of strength and monumentality to his work. Until the age of 92, he had continued to work daily in his studio



Carbonell was born on October 25, 1918, in Sancti Spiritus ("Holy Spirit"), Cuba. He had two sisters: the older was Josephine and the younger Angela. His father came from a family of 18 brothers and sisters. The family history has its roots in early sugar farming, from the early 1800s.

At an early age the family moved to the city of Cienfuegos and Carbonell went to study at "Monserrat" a primary school in the city. This proved to be the beginning of many lasting friendships. Since his early childhood he was recognized for his interest in drawings and carvings. Continuing on to his more formative academic years, in Havana he attended El Colegio de Belen, a Jesuit preparatory school, where he excelled in the classes involving art and history.



Carbonell first realized he wanted to be a sculptor when he was eight or nine years old. He was always making little figures with clay and whenever he found a piece of paper, he would doodle little figures on it. His harshest punishment as a child was when his mother took away his pencils and paper. Having the understanding that a piece of paper could be torn apart and disappear, ingrained in him that permanence could be achieved better by sculpting. Depression would set in when he was not involved in the process of creation. Quoting him, "Something curious happens to me when I sit down to begin the process of translating the images in my imagination into this third dimension. I see the whole piece finished, actually totally finished, in my minds eye, even before I begin. But, as we all know, imagination can be very treacherous.



In 1937, he wanted to learn about art and found out about "San Alejandro", the renowned Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Academy of Fine Arts) in Havana. When he arrived, they asked him what previous training he had had. Explaining, he told them he had none. The school wanted him to go through a preliminary process for two years prior to attending, however he managed to prove himself with a clay carving that he had made that following weekend and they accepted him as a student on the spot. Carbonell was 18 years old and barely beginning at San Alejandro when he fell down some stairs. The injury was very severe; one of his kidneys had ruptured as a result of the impact. He spent nearly one year partly paralyzed, unable to move easily. He could not attend classes of course, the despair he felt, lying there, all that time was immeasurable. But little by little he learned to walk again, he just stubbornly refused to give up, finally able to return to San Alejandro. At the Academy, Carbonell studied under the guidance of Juan José Sicre, a former student of Antoine Bourdelle, Rodin's favorite disciple. In 1945, at the age of 27, Carbonell graduated with the title of Professor of Drawing and Sculpture. Carbonell met and worked alongside some great artists, Fidelio Ponce, Victor Manuel, Amelia Pelaez,Roberto Estopiñan and many others. At San Alejandro, artistic excellence meant one must measure up to maximum standards or smash it into pieces and start again, that was the norm.


Beginnings as a sculptor

Exile to New York City

In 1959, Carbonell fled Cuba where he could no longer live under a totalitarian regime. Leaving behind his wealth, his established positions, his sculptures, and most importantly his family. He arrived in New York City with only his tremendous talent and $200 in cash and initially took up residency at the YMCA.

Carbonell moved away from his classical and religious period, in Cuba in the late 1940s and 1950s through the commencement and development of his modern expressions of the 1960s.

Although at the beginning deeply depressed, this new trajectory first moved him to a unique form of figurative abstraction where the anatomy was subjected to the anatomical elongation of the subject matter.

Carbonell's new career in America started almost haphazardly and by chance. As payment to his then public relations manager Ted Materna and Associates he provided one of his first sculptures in clay that he had created. A very prominent doctor, Paul Henkind, then Chief of the Department of Ophthalmology at Monte Fiore Hospital, NYC, noticed the incredible sculpture and stated to Mr. Materna "I didn't know you owned a Rodin"? Which was actually a Carbonell. He insisted on meeting Carbonell to see his work and showed up unannounced at his studio in SoHo, that same evening with his wife they purchased their own Carbonell and became long lasting patrons.

Shortly after in 1961, Manuel Carbonell was introduced to Dr. Fred Schoneman, the influential and renowned gallery owner, who was impressed with what he saw of Carbonell's work, and invited him to become the gallery's first and only sculptor and he is quoted saying: "He is indeed, as the critics have acclaimed and posterity will confirm, one of the Masters of Sculpture of our times." The gallery exhibited Carbonell's sculptures alongside European Masters and French Impressionist paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Braque, Chagall, Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Picasso, Gauguin, Renoir and others. Professional artistic success came with his new figuration sculptures when in 1963, he celebrated the first of his several "One Man Show" at the renowned Schoneman Gallery, Madison Avenue, in New York City, and collaborated in One Man Shows with other galleries, exceeding ten years, until Dr. Schonemans' passing.

For his first exhibition at Schoneman Galleries, Carbonell departed from clay and plaster forms and worked in hammered metals. During this time, one sensed the influence of Pablo Gargallos' figurative abstract modern sculptures. In 1967 he extended his frontier to include another one-man show in San Francisco at the Maxwell Galleries. By 1971, Carbonell held two exhibitions, one again at Schoneman and the other at the Bacardi Galleries in Miami, Florida. At this time, Carbonell moved from his previously acclaimed hammered metals and bronze finishes to high-polished bronzes sculptures. This new work took on a completely different aesthetic, becoming more abstract. Rounded volumes replaced the elongated anatomical shapes, present in "Lovers", "Madonna of the Moon" and "Figurative Form". During an exhibition at Galerie Moos, in 1972, in Montreal, Canada, the artist unveiled new subject matters through his high-polish bronze sculptures of "Sea Horses, a Sea Lion, Snail and Mermaid".

Renamed as Randall Galleries, a former employee of Schoneman Galleries took control over the gallery in 1973, while Carbonell was preparing an exhibition that would pay tribute to dance. The dancer series was a means to show his appreciation of dance as an art form, embracing the two art forms. The delicate lines of the ballet dancers are executed from a single point of balance. The graceful forms portray the excitement of their movement and beauty which is captured in reflective golden bronze. The opportunity to amplify this series turned into a benefit for The City Center in New York City to have an exhibition titled Homage to Ballet in 197




The Miami River Bridge

Carbonell was selected in a competition in 1992, this was to create one of the largest bronze monuments in the State of Florida, the artwork for Miami's Brickell Avenue Bridge, Miami Florida. Carbonell created the 53-foot bronze public monument "The Pillar of History and the Tequesta Family", located mid-span on the bridge. The pillar illustrates a carved graphical narration of the lives of the Tequesta Indians, Miami's first inhabitants, featuring 150 figures. At the top stands a 17-foot bronze sculpture, "Tequesta Family" portraying a Tequesta Indian warrior aiming an arrow to the sky with his wife and child at his side. In the niches at the supporting piers are four 4-foot by 8-foot bronze bas reliefs honoring the quintessential Miami pioneers Henry Flagler, Dana A. Dorsey, William and Mary Brickell, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Julia Tuttle, depicting them in their historical perpetual settings. Twelve bronze bas-reliefs of Florida fauna are located at the base of the flagpoles on the walk ways of both sides of the bridge.



 "Couple in Love" adorns the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Miami, 

"Lovers" is located at the entrance of the Carbonell Condominium,named in the artist honor, "Torso" formally at Selby's Five Point Park, downtown Sarasota then at the von Liebig Art Center in Naples, Florida. 

"New Generation" is in Xujianhui Park, Shanghai, China. 

" Amantes" now graces the grounds of The Buenaventura Golf and Beach Resort Panama, under the Autograph Collection of J.W. Marriott, Republic of Panama. 

"Abrazo" and "Couple in Love" enhance the first Ritz Carlton Hotel, in Bangalore, India.

 "Mother and Child" together with "Amantes" are amongst the garden of Château de Vullierens, Vullierens, Switzerland

 "Birth of Eve" at the entrance rotunda of Brickell Key Two Condominium, Miami, Florida.

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