critical texts


Ernesto Cardet Villegas

Signing first Juvenal, shortly after Hernández Cárdenas and finally HerCar —an abbreviation of his two surnames—, this creator made himself known in Cuba through the press and participating in exhibitions. An outstanding humorist, he excelled either in personal caricature, illustration and political satire, as well as in a collection of works known back then as charges, in which he captured —very gracefully and sometimes ironically—, the life of negroes in Cuba, absolutely no difficult for him who was very proud to be black too.

Born in Yaguaramas, a small village in the actual Cienfuegos province —although a part of his historiography mentions Cárdenas as his hometown because of a short time he spend there—, at the age of five Hernández Cárdenas was already living in Havana, in the area of the present municipality of Arroyo Naranjo. He lived there almost all of his life and he knew the scarce happiness and many troubles of those early years of the Republic: he entered the San Alejandro School of art; he debuted briefly as a boxer; he showed his great talent as a dancer —he and his wife were really outstanding in this—, and he carried out an important creative work. His ability as a draftsman, his mastery of color and an extraordinary power of synthesis made possible that he bring forth, through well-aimed strokes and a profound spirit of criticism, his knowledge of the newest artistic trends of his time and that his name quickly reach beyond our national limits.

He published his first works for the press at the early age of 19 years. The newspaper El País was the first one, and soon other periodicals —Score, Mediodía, Avance, Social, Bohemia, and Carteles among them—, requested his collaborations and even offered him the position of art editor, as it was the case with the left-wing newspaper Hoy, in which he held that post for years.

In 1919 he began to take part in the Fine Arts Exhibitions, although apparently his most notorious presentation at the Hall of Humorists, in 1925. An article of the also born in Cienfuegos and prominent caricaturist Juan David —who brag about the fact that he was his disciple and friend—, published in the title La caricatura: tiempos y hombre, reads regarding to this: “This year’s Hall has been poor, let us sadly face it. We have barely seen new names that will join the nice convoy. Hernández Cárdenas is the only new one to stay. He is a great industrious, intelligent, with a refined wit and audacious lines.”

At that time his work was already noticed for capturing the world around with an impeccable execution and a clever use of the different techniques. At the same time he continued with his caricatures, either from himself or from his friends, acquaintances or important figures. His charges with afro-Cuban topics, or related to dancing like Oh! El Fox were another thing; but he also was the author of pieces that denounced with bitter criticism the injustice at that time, about which he had an intransigent attitude. It is especially interesting another testimony, also mentioned by Juan David in the above-mentioned book. It is a excerpt from a letter Sergio Carbó, then director of La Semana, sent him to Mexico in 1929: “I insist in the issue of customs, that you wonderfully master: lotto ticket sellers, for example. Avoid politics. You would need to be here and take the pulse on the ground...”

Back in Cuba HerCar no only turned a deaf ear on the advices of his friends, but sharpened his satires against the government. Referring to an exhibit of his work in 1931, José Manuel Valdés Rodríguez wrote: “Hernández Cárdenas is a left-wing man and a left-wing artist.” Such criticism caused that in 1933 he was arrested and fined.


Ernesto Cardet Villegas (words for a HerCar exhibition brochure. Centenary of a humor writer, MNBA, 2004)