Born in Havana, at age 6 he already showed a precocious attitude for drawing. At age 12, he started studying arts at San Alejandro Art School, the most recognized art school in Cuba. When he was 14, he started to act as unofficial professor of elementary drawing classes .
He studied with Leopoldo Romañach, another famous Cuban painter, and by age 19 his talent started to become evident. Nevertheless, he performed his first personal exhibition as late as 1924 (when he was 26 years old). In 1925, he travels abroad, visiting France. It is in Montparnasse that a group of French artists advised him to sign his paintings only as Víctor Manuel (until that moment, he used his entire name and surname).
He returns home in 1927, and participates in an exhibition at the Painters and Sculptors Association of Havana, that is considered one of the starting points of Cuban modern painting era. In this time, he dedicated himself, for almost two years, to train other Cuban painters free of charge. Afterwards, he returns to Europe, visiting Spain and Belgium, returning to Cuba again in 1929. It is in this year that he creates his most famous painting: La Gitana Tropical (“The Tropical Gipsy”), popularly known as La gioconda americana, (the American Mona Lisa) which is in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana. It is considered by critics to be one of the defining pieces of Cuban Avant-garde.
He obtains a first prize in 1935, in an art exhibition at Havana’s Lyceum, and continues exhibiting his works in Cuba and abroad.
He died on 1969, in Havana.
Víctor Manuel’s style was not monolithic, but evolved greatly, during his lifetime. His first paintings show a tendency to mix European school with a primitive style, such as La Gitana Tropical (1929). In the 1940s and 1950s, he adopted a more stylized look that became distinctive of his work. During the last years of his life, his style became almost abstract, and his portraits were almost cubist.
He was very inconsistent in signing his work. He ranged from a simple “VICTOR MANUEL” capitalized signature, to fluid and complicated script, to not signing his paintings at all, and he even used a pseudonym in a period of his life .
Las Mulatas by Victor Manuel -