• Latin American Sale auction at Christies

    Sale 2222

    Latin American Sale

    17 - 18 November 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 27

    Wifredo Lam (Cuban 1902-1982)

    Sans titre

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Wifredo Lam (Cuban 1902-1982)
    Sans titre
    signed and dated 'Wifredo Lam, 1947' (lower right) and inscribed 'Avec tout amitié à toi Dr. de Cordova del pintor Saguero Español-France-Italiano nada N. Americano para un L. Americano Caribeño, Souvenir Permanente, Wifredo Habana Año del 2o congreso' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    42 x 33¼ in. (107 x 84 cm.)
    Painted in 1946-47.


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    This work will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Fondation Lam.


    Born in Sagua la Grande, province of Las Villas, Cuba, Wifredo Lam was the youngest child of an Afro-Cuban mother and an elderly Chinese father. This bi-racial and multi-cultural heritage would play a key role in Lam's mature work as an artist. After completing his art studies at the San Alejandro Academy in Havana (1918-23), Lam sailed for Europe to continue his studies at the San Fernando Academy in Madrid. Dissatisfied with the outdated academic practices of San Fernando, he began attending the more liberal Academia Libre. In the next few years Lam encountered modern art and modernist ideas in the work of Matisse, Torres García and Picasso, whose influences he absorbed and transformed into his own painting. Towards the end of the Spanish Civil War--where he was briefly involved on the Loyalist side-- Lam arrived in Paris in May 1938. In the next two years he would befriend both Picasso and André Breton and he would join the Surrealists. Due to the outbreak of World War II and the Nazi invasion of France, Lam (and his companion Helena Holzer) returned to Cuba in early August 1941.

    Once Lam was back on Cuban soil his style matured and developed after re-encountering the tropical light and vegetation of his homeland and the powerful presence of Afro-Cuban culture. From 1942 through 1945 there is an explosion of color in his painting, as evidenced in masterworks such as La silla (Museo Nacional, Havana) and La jungla (Museum of Modern Art, New York). All through this period his own iconography is emerging, where anthropomorphic figures that are human and animal function in environments charged with the poetics of the Afro-Cuban. In late 1945 Lam eliminated lush color from his palette, favoring instead monochromatic arrangements of browns, tan and black with occasional incursions into blue and red, this lasted until 1949. It is within this period that the 1946-1947 painting Sans titre (Untitled) belongs.

    Sans titre depicts a single seated figure that fills the entire picture. Clean and crisp lines define the forms in black, while the entire surface is thinly painted in a gray tan. The figure holds a black bird by the neck with the left hand, while another bird emerges from within the body, between the right shoulder and neck. The head consists of a small circle with features typical of Lam's depictions of diablitos (little devils) or eleggua (the deity who controls the 21 roads in Santeria). Sensual yet small breasts stand out in the upper torso of the figure, and a wing protrudes out of its left shoulder. It is possible that this is a deity or priestess in the act of a ritual sacrifice (the black bird). The overall austerity of the picture--its monochromatic quality and precise lines--evokes a neo-classical elegance.

    The dedication to Dr. de Cordova inscribed in French and Spanish on the back of the work ("Avec tout mon amitié ã toi Dr. de Cordova del pintor Saguero Español-France-Italiano nada N. Americano para un L. Americano Caribeño, Souvenir Permanente, Wifredo Habana Año del 2o congreso...") gives insight to the artist's sense of identity; he is a painter from Sagua (his birthplace), Spain, France and Italy, not North America.

    Alejandro Anreus, Ph.D.

    Provenance

    George Nader Gallery, Santo Domingo.
    Private collection, Clearwater, Florida.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.


    Literature

    Exhibition catalogue, Wifredo Lam and His Contemporaries, New York, The Studio Museum in Harlem, 1992, p. 70 (illustrated).
    L. Laurin-Lam and E. Lam, Wifredo Lam: Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Volume I 1923-1960, Acatos, Lausanne, 1996, p. 388, no. 46.12 (illustrated).