Amelia Peláez (Cuban 1896-1968)
Amelia Peláez (Cuban 1896-1968)


Amelia Peláez (Cuban 1896-1968)
signed and dated 'A PELAEZ, 1947' (lower right)
gouache on paper laid on canvas
31 3/8 x 39 3/8 in. (79.7 x 100 cm.)
Executed in 1947.
Acquired from the artist.
José Gómez-Sicre collection, Washington D.C.
Gift from the above to Dorothy Friestedt on the occasion of her wedding to Oscar Altamirano (1951) .
By descent to the present owner.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to the Fundación Arte Cubano, Madrid, Spain for its assistance in cataloguing this work.

The Cuban artist Amelia Peláez was tireless in her exploration of the theme of the still life. With the intensity of a spiritual quest she produced an endless variety of paintings portraying fruit-laden tabletops bathed in the glow of the stained-glass fan lights of her home in La Víbora, Havana. Transcending their humble, every day subject matter these iconic scenes were a heartfelt expression of the artist's cubanidad, or love of all things Cuban. Each work is subtly but dazzlingly unique, like a roadmap of a familiar terrain always viewed with a fresh eye for the changes in season. The array of different colors and gestural lines employed by Peláez suggest that these paintings acted as receptacles for her rich and emotional inner life.

This untitled gouache from 1947 possesses a soft and warm light, unlike the more bold and vibrant color schemes of her other still lives. The overlapping labyrinthine lines serve to dematerialize form and lend the work a nervous psychological quality. In addition to the more usual black outlines, there is an overlay of sinewy green that contributes yet another layer of topographic complexity. A Baroque exuberance is further enhanced by the use of opposing hues--greens and oranges, blues and golds. Above are the starburst medallions and zigzag borders of her patterned tile flooring, while below are the fringes of the lacey crocheted doilies that topped the surfaces of her household's furniture. But the tones are muted and the fruits on the table are subsumed within dominating graphics that wrap around them like a spider's web.

It is interesting to note that the framing devices of the outer four quadrants are all different, alternating between lines that are open and closed, thick and delicate, in order to establish a rhythm that evades the sense of suffocation threatening to overtake the composition. Although living in her childhood home, full of the fussy and ornate bric-a-brac of a bygone era, Peláez remains dedicated to modernist artistic programs. A mastery of her personal visual language is in full evidence here as she pushes the boundaries of her modest tableau, willfully forcing it to communicate both specificity of place and the pictorial experimentation she was first exposed to while studying in Paris. Once again Peláez demonstrates the touch of an alchemist, distilling the personal to reveal the cosmos.

Susan L. Aberth, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

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