When Art Escaped the Cuban Revolution

After 6 years of conflict, the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista as President of Cuba on 1 January 1959 marked the end of the Cuban Revolution and the establishment of Fidel Castro’s socialist state. Sensing the imminent demise of his regime, Batista was careful to ensure his personal art collection would escape intact from the island. The collection was donated in 1957 ‘to the city and people of Daytona Beach’, the area in Florida where Batista and his wife had lived in exile during the 1940s. The following year the artworks were secretly transported out of the country.

The collection formed the Cuban Foundation Museum, now housed in the city’s Museum of Arts and Sciences. The 200 objects, dating from the Spanish Colonial period to the mid-twentieth century, comprise important examples of folk and decorative arts and the largest collection of Cuban paintings outside the country.

Archiaga Cuban FoundationCastro’s government approached the Daytona Beach authorities in 1962 to request the return of the artworks, but the city refused to consider the proposal until such time as there might be ‘a more friendly government in Cuba’. Calls to return the works have resurfaced in recent years, but as yet this rare and valuable collection continues to surprise audiences in one corner of the Sunshine State.

Lorenzo Romero Arciaga, The Cup of Coffee, c. 1940. Courtesy The Cuban Foundation, Museum of Arts and Sciences, Daytona Beach.

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