Haitian art has been shaped by a complex mix of indigenous, African, and European cultural influences and the legacy of slavery and colonialism. The first generation of mid-twentieth century, self-taught Haitian artists produced descriptive figurative paintings inspired by daily life and their natural surroundings. These paintings are mainly illustrative, characterized by flat figures and bright or pastel colors in a non-Western style. During the 1940s and 1950s, several Haitian artists became acquainted with modern art’s international movements. A few of them traveled to France, where they saw the latest trends and received formal training. However, most of them familiarized themselves with modern styles through magazines and reproductions and developed distinctive personal techniques inspired by Impressionism, Surrealism, and abstract art.
Surrealism was particularly influential in the development of Haitian art in the 1940s. André Breton, considered the leader of French Surrealism, and Cuban painter Wifredo Lam visited Le Centre d’Art in 1945 and immediately established parallels between Haitian art and the Surrealist movement.