Amelia Peláez was born in 1896 in Yaguajay, in the former Cuban province of Las Villas (now Sancti Spíritus Province). In 1924 she graduated from the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts, and exhibited her paintings for the first time, along with another Cuban female painter, María Pepa Lamarque, at the Association of Painters and Sculptors in Havana. After receiving a small government grant, she traveled to New York City in the Summer of 1924 and began a course of six months at the Art Students' League. In 1927, after being awarded a larger grant, she began studying in France while paying short visits to Spain, Italy, and other countries. In 1934, following a showing at the Salon des Independants, Pelaez returned to live in her mother's colonial-style house in Cuba. In 1935, Pelaez held a solo exhibition at a women's club in Havana called the Lyceum, which helped her new modernist Cuban style gain exposure. In the mid-thirties, Peláez began experimenting with "patterns, shapes and geometric relationships of tablecloths and fruit dishes, laying the groundwork for the geometric constructions and rhythmic patterns that have been associated with her architectural ornamentation in her work in the forties," it also showed her awareness of Cubism. In 1935-1936, Pelaez focused much of her paintings and drawings on the use of ink and pencil. The treatment of these drawings differs from her previous oil paintings; by distorting and exaggerating the figure with "sinuous line and light shading" that reference Cubism and European Modernism. Peláez received a prize in the National Exposition of Painters and Sculptors in 1938, and collaborated on several art magazines in Cuba, such as Origins, Nobody Seemed, and Silver Spur. In 1950 she opened a workshop at San Antonio de los Baños, a small city near Havana, where she dedicated herself, until 1962, to her favorite pastime of pottery. She sent her paintings to the São Paulo Art Biennial in 1951 and 1957, and participated in the 1952 Venice Biennale. In 1958 she was a guest of honor and jury member at the First Inter-American Biennial of Painting and Printmaking in Mexico City, although she pulled out of the raucous and controversial jury discussions based on what she reported to be “an openly Communist bias in the decisions.” Aside from painting and pottery, she dedicated time to murals, located mainly at different schools in Cuba. Her most important works of this type are a ceramic mural at the Tribunal de Cuentas in Havana (1953) and the facade of the Habana Hilton hotel (1957). She had a hard time selling her paintings as a living artist—she and her paintings, later nicknamed Amelias, achieved fame much later in life. Peláez died in Havana in 1968.
Hand painted ceramic plate and paddle, 13.5" diameter, date unknown