Panamanian Painters -- JUAN MANUEL CEDEŅO                                 [p1 of 8]


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   (28 December 1914 - 11 August 1997)


Juan Manuel Cedeņo at age 80 years.

(Right)  His birthplace in Los Santos.  (Lower photo of the Cedeņo house in 2006 by WHO July 2006)

Juan Manuel Cedeņo is considered one of Panama's greatest painters and belonged to the second republican period of art (from 1940 through the end of 1950), although he continued painting until his death in 1997.

His prolific paintings of many aspects of Panamanian life and customs earned him the fame as the "cronista grafico de la nacionalidad panameņa" (graphic chronicler of the Panamanian nationality). But he preferred to be known as the painter from Los Santos, a label he wore with great pride. (There is a story that has been told often that during a gathering of politicians and community leaders in Los Santos several suggested to Juan Manuel that he should consider running for president of Panama. He thanked them for the suggestion, said he was flattered by it, but asked, "Why should I want to be president of the Republic of Panama; I am a painter.")

He was born in historic La Villa, in Los Santos Province of Panama, December 28, 1914, the 13th of 14 children of Celio Cedeņo Palma and Josefa Henriquez Castillo de Cedeņo.

Juan Manuel's love and natural talent for art started early in life when he started drawing at the age of four years. When he was seven, he starting painting reproductions of religious scenes from a book on Dante.


Juan Manuel completed primary schooling in Los Santos where he distinguished himself with his drawings. He was chosen to make all the maps for his school, the quality of which earned him the name "el zurdito de oro" (golden lefty).

He started secondary schooling in 1930 and showed great promise in art that he was awarded a scholarship to the Instituto Nacional in Panama City where he then -- at the age of 16 years -- was encouraged to enroll in Panama's National Academy of Painting (today the National School of Painting -- Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas) where he studied under Roberto Lewis, one of Panama's foremost painters. (Juan Manuel was later considered one of Lewis' most outstanding students.) After graduating from the Instituto Nacional in 1935, Juan Manuel taught in schools in rural schools in other interior parts of the country and from 1939 continued studies at the National Academy of Painting until 1943.

Upon winning a government scholarship to study abroad, he chose the Chicago Institute of Art where he studied from 1944 through 1948 and graduated with B.A. degree in Fine Arts. While in Chicago, he exhibited his paintings at the Chicago International House in 1945; in The School of the Art Institute in 1946 (winning honorable mention); and in the Institute of Design in 1947.

In 1953, Juan Manuel studied art (as invited student) at the Polytechnical Institute of Mexico in Mexico City under the muralist Siqueiros and painter Diego Rivera.


After joining the National School of Painting (in Casco Viejo, the old colonial part of Panama City) in 1940 as assistant to the director Humberto Ivaldi, another of his mentors, Juan Manuel was in charge of he school from 1948-1967 and named director ad honorem of the school.

After Roberto Lewis' death in 1949, Juan Manuel began the reorganization of the National School of Painting.

He was also professor of drawing and painting at the University of Panama in Panama City from 1949 until his retirement in 1978.

After Roberto Lewis died, Juan Manuel was commissioned to continue Lewis' work of painting the official portraits of several of Panama's presidents (the first one done in 1948 of Dr. Daniel Chanis and the last one painted in 1987 of Max Del Valle) which are permanently displayed in the Presidential Gallery of the Salon Amarillo (Yellow Room) of the Presidential Palace in the colonial part of Panama City.

In 1970, he was commissioned by the government to retouch the paintings by Roberto Lewis on the ceiling and in the foyer of the historic National Theater in the colonial Casco Viejo part of Panama City, an arduous process particularly on the ceiling.

In 1995, Juan Manuel was contracted by then Foreign Minister Gabriel Lewis Galindo to paint 12 large paintings depicting significant events of Panama's history. Unfortunately, Lewis Galindo died before the project was initiated.

In addition to his teaching (including having taught many of later well known Panamanian artists including Guillermo Trujillo), Juan Manuel was recognized for having been one of the first Panamanians to interest himself in the styles of international contemporary art and also passing on the same passion to his students. 


Juan Manuel worked in oil, tempora, charcoal, and water color. He did not stay within the strict boundaries of classical art, but dared to experiment with new forms of expression bordering at times on cubism.

The gamut of his works in included:

Panamanian rustic country scenes (the vernacular as is often called in Panama) -- especially rustic scenes of Los Santos Province on the Azuero Peninsula (southwest of Panama City), which exhibited his pride in his birthplace which he greatly cherished and was quite emotional about and passed it on to others through his paintings.
Panamanian scenes, customs, national costumes such as the polleras and diablicos) and religious scenes.
Aspects of history, particularly Panama in the first part of the 20th Century.

Although he painted many landscape and historical scenes, he stood out as being one of the principal portrait painters after Roberto Lewis and, like many of those by his mentor, many of his portraits hang in the Presidential Palace and other government office buildings. His portraits showed hints of the portraits by the Spanish portrait painters Velasquez (Diego Rodriguez de Iva y Velasquez) and Francisco de Goya y Lucientes.



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William H. Ormsbee. Jr.  2005