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  • Provenance

    Gary Nader Collection

  • Exhibited

    New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Lam, Recent Paintings, 1945
    San Juan, Arsenal de la Puntilla, Wifredo Lam, obras desde 1938 hasta 1975, de regreso al Caribe,1992
    New York, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Wifredo Lam and his Contemporaries 1938-1952, no. 37, p. 121, illustrated in color
    Boston, Boston College, McMullen Museum, August 30-December 14, 2014; Atlanta, The High Museum of Art, February 14-May 24, 2015; Imagining New Worlds: Wifredo Lam, p. 129, no. 38, illustrated in color

  • Literature

    Lou Laurin-Lam, Wifredo Lam, Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Works, Volume I 1923-1960, Lausanne, 1996, no. 45.28, p. 374, illustrated

  • Catalogue Essay

    In addition to Lam's monumental works of the Havana years from 1941 to 1952, the artist did an equally significant group of more intimate, less totemic paintings including Les Oiseaux voilés. That painting may be seen within the context of Personnages, Le Miel noir, Charbon de mer, and Chant des osmoses, which form a cohesive group of works distinguished by delicately drawn lines and impressionistically dappled paint. Les Oiseaux voilés's exquisite coloration--blues, touches of light greens, and reds--is held together by alternating light and dark black lines that imbue the animated forms with a sense of movement and buoyancy. The jewel-like surface features winged beings (the "veiled birds"), crescents or moon shapes, and triangles. Two eggs are anchored in the foreground; a candle sits in the middle of a cone-shaped form, and the ever-present round head appears supported by the barely drawn lines of a hand. In Les Oiseaux voilés, the birds, never realistically rendered, take on a life of their own.
    The familiar motifs allude to beliefs and/or ceremonies in Afro-Cuban culture and at the same time re-create a sense of a lush tropical landscape. The cone-shaped form is a reference to the same shaped headdress of the diablito, or little devil, in Abakua ceremonies, which, interestingly enough, Lam also used in the illustration that appeared on the cover of the magazine V I E W in May 1945.[i] The little round head signifies Elegguá, the guardian of one's path.
    Lam had a one-person exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in June 1945, a month after World War II ended in Europe. Lam must have given great thought to the works selected for that exhibition because his presence in New York would have been very important for several reasons. The opening coincided with the beginning of an era of peace; his work would have been seen by a significant group of artists and cultural people who were interested in and informed of artistic developments that had taken place during the war years in New York among American artists as well as by many European and Latin American artists who were living there in temporary exile. The works noted above, which Lam no doubt considered his best, were also included in the Pierre Matisse Gallery exhibition. Following its success, the artist's work continued to attract positive critical attention by writers in The Art Digest; and it is noteworthy that the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquiredThe Jungle of 1942-43.
    By 1945 Lam was becoming a recognized artist within the relatively small New York art scene of then emerging figures such as Barnett Newman, Arshile Gorky, and Matta. Perhaps it was Pierre Loeb, Lam's Paris dealer and friend, who best summed up the Cuban artist's contributions: "If there was ever an artist who, by means of fragile lines and immaterial touches, could synthesize the blinding light of his country, its ethnic secrets, the richness of its vegetation, it is he [Lam]."[ii]

    Julia P. Herzberg, Ph.D.
    Art historian and curator
    [i] The Cuban artist was invited to illustrate the cover of the magazine V I E W for its special issue "Tropical Americana" written by Paul Bowles. In 1943 Lam illustrated the cover of VVV, a small magazine founded by the New York artist David Hare with the assistance of André Breton and Max Ernest.
    [ii] In 1945 Loeb printed an illustration of Fruta Bomba in his book Voyages à travers la peinture.

  • Artist Bio

    Wifredo Lam

    Cuban • 1902 - 1982

    Wifredo Lam was born in Sagua la Grande, Cuba and was of mixed Chinese, European, Indian and African descent. He studied under Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor, curator for the Museo del Prado and teacher of Salvador Dalí.

    While studying in Spain, he met Pablo Picasso, who would become his mentor and friend as well as one of his great supporters, introducing him to the intelligentsia of the time. Lam significantly contributed to modernism during his prolific career as painter, printmaker, sculptor and ceramist. His works explored Cubism and expanded the inventive parameters of Surrealism while negotiating figuration and abstraction with a unique blend of Afro-Cuban and Surrealist iconography. His iconic visual language incorporated syncretic and fantastical objects and combined human-animal figures fused with lush vegetation.

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Les Oiseaux Voilés (The Flying Bird)

1945
oil on canvas
111.2 x 126.3 cm (43 3/4 x 49 3/4 in.)
Signed and dated lower right

Contact Specialist
Henry Allsopp
Worldwide Head of Latin American Art
+44 20 7318 4060 August Uribe
Deputy Chairman, Americas
+1 212 940 1208

Wifredo Lam: Blurring Boundaries

London 10 – 21 October 2016