• Latin American Sale auction at Christies

    Sale 2359

    Latin American Sale

    17 - 18 November 2010, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 14

    Wifredo Lam (Cuban 1902-1982)

    Flor luna

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Wifredo Lam (Cuban 1902-1982)
    Flor luna
    oil on canvas
    42 3/8 x 33 7/8 in. (107.5 x 86 cm.)
    Painted in 1950.


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    Lam led a peripatetic existence in the years following his celebrated return to Cuba in 1941, dividing his time between New York, Havana and Paris until settling permanently in Europe in the early 1950s. His work gained a more international audience during this important period, reflecting both the cosmopolitan horizons of his mature painting and his nomadic lifestyle, which brought him into contact with the New York School, the CoBrA group, and the Afro-Cubanist movement. "Fifty-percent Cartesian and fifty-percent savage" by his own admission, Lam created a body of work that powerfully assimilated the African cultural diaspora into a visual language drawn from Europe. "In this way his artistic vocabulary began to parallel the synthesis and syncretization of African, European, and Amerindian cultures that occurred through out the Americas," noted Lam scholar Lowery Stokes Sims has observed, and his paintings from this period subtly distill the hybrid cultural reality of the New World.(1)

    Lam's iconic femme cheval motif, which evolved outstandingly in his work between 1947 and 1950, embodies the syncretic and suggestively multivalent character of his classic work. The ultimate personification of a "collective mythical virgin-beast, a timeless symbol of carnality," the femme cheval manifests a rich array of iconographic sources from Surrealist mythologies to indigenous ritual traditions.(2) Drawing a connection to the Afro-Cuban religion Santería, which Lam had studied as a child with his godmother, Sims explains, "The endowing of the femme cheval with an animal head is most often interpreted literally as a representation of the devotee of the orishas as the 'horse' of the deity, who mounts the believer during ritual ceremonies." Yet no less is the femme cheval an "emblem of Surrealist hybridity--the minotaur," she continues, but rendered through a canny transposition of gender in which the artist shifts "the power focus of Surrealism (and Picasso) from the male principle to the female."(3)

    The present work is a characteristic incarnation of Lam's femme cheval, her form defined by the familiar trumpet-shaped head stretching elegantly out of a slender human body, just balanced by the elongated mane-tail that extends down her back. Certain iconographic details place Flor luna within the corpus of paintings from 1950: the grotesque, toothy smile and bulbous chin recall the features of Tresses d'eau, for example, and the tapered-off, oval face evokes the even greater attenuations of the handsome Lisamona. Unique to Flor luna, however, is the swollen, pregnant belly, a universal symbol of fertility and sexuality here strikingly echoed in the dark-brown silhouette looming in her shadow. Lam's palette shifted toward richer olive greens and browns during this time, colors that he explained were "deeper and more profound," and as his palette grew more limited his forms became flatter and more hieratic.(4) The dim, sumptuous quality of Lam's surfaces during this period is marvelously rendered here in deep, tonal shades of green, setting off the fine plastic quality of the line that would increasingly characterize his work by the end of the decade. The seamless integration of evocative iconography and pure aesthetic values defined Lam's femme cheval paintings, and in Flor luna he crafted a powerful image of the spiritual world from a repertoire of elemental geometries and abstracted forms.

    Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park.

    1) L. Stokes Sims, Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 1923-1982, Austin, University of Texas Press, 2002, 34.
    2) H. T. Day and S. Garrigues, quoted in Sims, Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 115.
    3) Sims, Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 117.
    4) Lam, quoted in Sims, Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 143.

    Provenance

    Private collection, Paris.
    Ignacio Joaristi collection, Havana.
    Dulce María Zenaida Ramírez de Echavarría and Esther Juliana Ramírez Echavarría collection, Havana.
    Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 20 November 1996, lot 37 (illustrated in color).
    Private collection, Guayaquil.
    Cernuda Arte, Coral Gables.


    Saleroom Notice

    Please note the additional provenance for this work:
    Private collection, Paris.
    Ignacio Joaristi collection, Havana.
    Dulce María Zenaida Ramírez and Esther Juliana Ramírez Echavarría collection, Havana.
    Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 20 November 1996, lot 37 (illustrated in color).
    Private collection, Guayaquil.
    Cernuda Arte, Coral Gables.


    Literature

    F. Ortiz, Wifredo Lam, Havana, Publicaciones del Ministerio de Educación, 1950, no. 18 (illustrated).
    E. Desnoes, Lam, azul y negro, Havana, Ediciones Cuadernos de la Casa de las Américas, 1963, p. 24 (illustrated).
    Islas, no. 1, Las Villas, Cuba, Universidad Central de las Villas, 1966, p. 124 (illustrated).
    M. Leiris, Lam, Milan, Fratelli Fabbri, 1970, no. 82 (illustrated). A. Jouffroy, Le nouveau Nouveau monde de Lam, Pollenza-Macerata, Italy, La Nuova Foglio Altrouno, 1975, p. 154 (illustrated).
    'Wifredo Lam,' in XX siècle, no. 52, Paris, July 1979, p. 9 (illustrated).
    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, Lausanne, Acatos, 1996, p. 428, no. 50.29 (illustrated).
    Exhibition catalogue, Wifredo Lam in North America, Milwaukee, Haggerty Museum of Art, 2007-2008, fig. 49 (illustrated in color).


    Exhibited

    Havana, Parque Central, Lam, obras recientes, 1950.
    Milwaukee, Haggerty Museum of Art, Wifredo Lam in North America, 11 October 2007 - 21 January 2008. This exhibition also traveled to Miami, Miami Art Museum, 8 - 18 February 2008; Long Beach, Museum of Latin American Art, 12 June - 31 August 2008; and St. Petersburg, Salvador Dalí Museum, 2 October 2008 - 10 January 2009.