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Wifredo Lam (Cuban 1902-1982)
Wifredo Lam (Cuban 1902-1982)

Untitled (Personnage avec oiseau)

Wifredo Lam (Cuban 1902-1982)
Untitled (Personnage avec oiseau)
signed and dated 'Wifredo Lam 1961' (lower left)
oil on canvas
39 1/8 x 31½ in. (99.4 x 80 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Albert Loeb Gallery, New York.
Pyramid Galleries, Washington, D.C.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
M. Leiris, Lam, Milan, Fratelli Fabbri, 1970, n. 123 (illustrated).
M.-P. Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, 1st ed., Barcelona/Paris, Polígrafa /Cercle d'Art, 1976, p. 239, n. 479 (illustrated).
M.-P. Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, 2nd ed., Barcelona/Paris, Polígrafa/Cercle d'Art, 1989, p. 259, n. 511 (illustrated).
L. Laurin-Lam and E. Lam, Wifredo Lam: Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Volume II, 1961-1982, Lausanne, Acatos, 2002, p. 253, no. 61.06 (illustrated).

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Camila Femenias
Camila Femenias

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Eskil Lam for his assistance cataloguing this work.

“I have made the journey of Christopher Columbus in reverse,” Lam observed of his return to Europe, “from the Antilles to Liguria.” Lam’s frequent transatlantic passages of the 1950s gave way to a more sustained spell in Europe following the turn of the decade. He left the repressive climate of Havana in 1958, arriving first in the United States--where he married Lou Laurin in 1960–and then in Europe, where he established his family in Paris (later, in Zurich) and worked mostly out of a studio in Albissola, along the northern Italian coast. Celebrated as a modern master and stimulated by his new Italian connections, Lam rejuvenated himself during these years, experimenting with printmaking and ceramics and celebrating the birth of his sons Eskil (1961) and Timour (1962).

Lam began to incorporate a menagerie of animals into his iconography during the 1950s, and birds–familiar attributes of orishas within the Santeria belief system–appeared in a range of guises. Seen as shadowy “diabolical birds” and elsewhere as vultures with horns, the birds also manifested in the form of a “dove/pigeon” appearing “as a sacrificial offering, as seen in paintings such as Ogún et Elegua (1962) and Le marchand des rêves (1962), where the female figures hold the birds in their hands before disposing of them,” Lowery Stokes Sims has explained. In the present Untitled (Personnage avec oiseau), a totemic personage holds the bird horizontally as if in a ritual offering, its body suspended–almost spectral–in space. Distilled to a narrow, double-headed cylinder, the deity enfolds the bird through a tangle of angular limbs; disembodied forms, barely outlined yet strangely lucid against a sumptuously gray ground, trace movements and presence in space. Lam “has gone to the heart of human nature where existence manifests itself as the springboard of a dream which is incarnated in the chronicle of the ages,” Marco Valsecchi remarked in 1962. “And it is for this reason that Lam alerts us to the existence of a disquieting state of being, first seen as a silent void from which the cipher of an ancient message can be grasped.”

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

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