Amelia Peláez - Latin America New York Thursday, May 23, 2013 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Galería del Prado, Havana
    Collection of Ilka Chase, New York
    Private Collection, Chicago

  • Exhibited

    New York, Museum of Modern Art, Modern Cuban Painters, March 16- May 30, 1944
    Miami, The Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture, Amelia Peláez (1896-1968): A Retrospective, July 15- August 15, 1988

  • Literature

    A. Barr, Modern Cuban Painters, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1944, p. 14
    J. Gómez Sicre, Pintura cubana de hoy, Havana: María Luisa Gómez Mena, 1944, p. 57 (illustrated)
    Amelia Peláez (1896-1968):A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture, Miami, 1988, p. 55 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "Amelia Peláez’s extraordinary contribution was to show how abstract imagery could be used to present an all-encompassing view of Cuban culture." Narciso G. Menocal

    A seminal figure in 20th Century Latin American painting, Amelia Peláez is one of the most prominent artists of the Cuban avant-garde. Having studied at the Academia de San Alejandro in Havana, she went on to spend several years in New York and Paris, directly engaging with the leading artistic currents of the time. After spending six months at the Art Students League in New York, she arrived in Paris in 1926, where she lived for seven years. Peláez thereby witnessed the development of Cubism and the creative expansion of European Modernism before World War II, and these insights went on to inform her intricate and elegant aesthetic approaches throughout her career.

    Peláez earned her peers’ admiration in Europe, where her first solo show in 1933 was excellently received. Her early artistic success was unfortunately followed by a period of economic hardship, which coincided with the decline of the sugar boom in Cuba in 1934. No longer able to afford life in Europe, she returned to Cuba at the age of 37. She lived and worked in the same house until her death, painting with quiet determination as she laid the foundations for Cuban Modernism. Many of her works feature the domestic and architectural settings that surrounded her throughout her life, such as richly colored still lives and delicately rendered building façades.

    The artistic circles in Cuba were immediately captivated by her work, which was featured in various solo and group exhibitions and won several salon prizes. She was one of the few women who were selected to participate in the important Art in Cuba show at the University of Havana in 1940. Her first retrospective took place at the Institución Hispano-Cubana de Cultura in 1943, by which time she was already considered a central player in the current artistic scene. Moreover, the present lot, Las Hermanas (1943) was included in the exhibition Modern Cuban Painters at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, curated by Alfred Barr in 1944. The exhibition, which showcased Cuban art as a highlight of the contemporary art world for the first time, included 11 works by Peláez. Las Hermanas was reproduced as a postcard to advertize the show, evidence of the work’s significant position within her oeuvre.

    Las Hermanas is a rich, vibrant work portraying two sisters looking out from the balcony of their house. Highly influenced by the European avant-garde, Peláez went on to develop her own brand of Cubism after returning to Cuba from Paris, incorporating themes and imagery from the everyday experience of the Hispanic Caribbean. She combined the intellectual and aesthetic approaches of Picasso, Braque and Matisse with her personal surroundings, reinterpreting the local art of the time. In Las Hermanas, the women are characterized by attitudes that are different in appearance but similar in intensity. The sisters are not alike in facial features, hair, or dress, and their divergent depictions convey the artist’s virtuosity and flair for psychological drama. The sister on the left is composed of features that might border on the classical, while the sister on the right is characterized by stark angularity and warmer tones. Nevertheless, these differences are gracefully brought together by the Cubist rendering and their powerfully fixed gazes. It is difficult to determine where one body ends and the other begins. Peláez’s aesthetic interests are revealed as she portrays her Havana surroundings through the compartmentalization of color in a quasi-abstract composition. Human figures are relatively rare in Peláez’s body of work, and Las Hermanas is a vital example of her ability to incorporate her Cubist expertise with the psychological power of portraiture.

    By 1943, Peláez had developed as a mature artist, with lyrical grace masterfully expressed through her use of color and line.

  • Artist Biography

    Amelia Peláez

    Cuban • 1896 - 1968

    Amelia Peláez, one of the most prominent Cuban avant-garde artists, studied at the Academia de San Alejandro in Havana. She was part of the first wave of Cuban artists living in Europe before World War II. In Paris, she witnessed the development of Cubism as well as other European art movements that would later inform her complex personal aesthetic of simplified forms and bold colors.

    With the decline of the sugar boom, Peláez returned to Cuba and laid the foundation for Cuban modernism by introducing artistic innovations. Her mature works are composed of brightly hued, quasi-abstract compositions that often depict unique domestic and architectural settings. Peláez was undeniably inspired by her surroundings in Cuba, where she continued to live until her death.

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Las Hermanas

gouache on paper
37 1/4 x 29 1/2 in. (94.6 x 74.9 cm.)
Signed and dated "A. PELÁEZ 1943" lower right. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Ramón Vázquez Díaz and José Veigas Zamora. This work is registered in the Catalogue of Works of the Cuban Art Foundation under archive number AML-080.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $569,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Allsopp
Worldwide Director, Latin American Art
+ 1 212 940 1216

Latin America

New York 23 May 2013 4pm