Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Wolfgang Paalen (Austrian/Mexican 1905-1959)
Wolfgang Paalen (Austrian/Mexican 1905-1959)


Wolfgang Paalen (Austrian/Mexican 1905-1959)
signed with initials 'WP' and dated '46' (lower right)
oil on canvas
51 x 47 in. (129.5 x 119.4 cm.)
Painted in 1946.
A. Neufert, Wolfgang Paalen Im Inneren des Wals, Vienna/New York, Springer, 1999, p. 319, no. 46.10 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity from the Paalen Archive in Berlin signed by Dr. Adreas Neufert .

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids-and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me . . .
-RALPH ELLISON, Invisible Man

These powerful words begin Ralph Ellison's iconic tale of racial alienation written over a seven-year period immediately after the end of the Second World War, before much of America had begun to wake up to the racial injustice in their midst. After its publication in 1952, Ellison's Invisible Man became one of the most important works of twentieth century fiction and introduced millions of readers to the harsh reality of life for many of their fellow Americans. The book remained on the best seller lists for sixteen weeks and continues to be a standard text in many schools and colleges, introducing students to the struggles faced by many of their forebears, only a generation before them. Ellison and his wife, Fanny, were a true Renaissance couple. In addition to his writing, Ellison was also a literary critic, sculptor, photographer and scholar. He was also a keen musician who began playing the trumpet at the age of 8, an interest he cultivated, eventually studying classical composition at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Ellison's interest in all forms of music led him to form long-term friendships with the blues singer Jimmy Rushing and the trumpeter Hot Lips Page. Fanny was involved in theater, politics and civil rights. She was a founder of the Negro People's Theater in 1937 while she lived in Chicago, before joining the Chicago Defender newspaper where she was the author of a column called "Along the Political Front," as well as writing numerous reviews and essays. She also played an important role in Ellison's success as a writer, spending long-hours editing and typing up his handwritten manuscripts, often adding her own comments or thoughts in the margins.
The Ralph and Fanny Ellison Charitable Trust, established under the will of Fanny Ellison, was the beneficiary of several works collected by the Ellisons over the course of their marriage. A selection of these works (including the present lot by the abstract surrealist artist Wolfgang Paalen) is being offered by Christie's for the benefit of the Trust's charitable programs, which include The Ralph and Fanny Ellison Scholarship administered by the United Negro College Fund. And, while it is unclear whether the Ellisons ever met Wolfgang Paalen--the Austrian artist who adopted Mexico as his home in 1939 and lived there until his death in 1954--he exhibited regularly in New York during the 1940s, including at Julien Levy Gallery (1940) and at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of this Century Gallery (1945). Paalen's unique approach to abstraction as well as his influential art magazine DYN impacted significantly on the genesis of Abstract Expressionism. Likewise his connections to several members of the New York School, such as Matta and Robert Motherwell may have also led to the Ellisons contact with the Austrian's powerful and phantasmagorical abstractions.

More from Latin American Art

View All
View All