Wifredo Lam - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips

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  • In Short

    Painted in 1964, the same year Wifredo Lam won the Guggenheim International Award, Untitled is a quintessential example of the acclaimed artist’s late work. A mysterious figure emerges from a cosmic orange background, equally reminiscent of a two-winged horse and Lam’s iconic motif of the femme-cheval or "horse-headed woman”. Evocative of Zambezia, Zambezia, 1950, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the work perfectly captures the unique visual lexicon that Lam developed by furthering his interest in Surrealism vis-a-vis his own Afro-Cuban origins, specifically in relation to his fascination with Haitian Santería deities.

  • Painting a post-colonial world

    Born in Cuba in 1902 and witness to some of the key political upheavals in the 20th century, Wifredo Lam truly pioneered a new and unique way of painting in a post-colonial world. 


    "My painting is an act of decolonization not in a physical sense, but in a mental one."
    - Wifredo Lam

    Lam initially studied painting in Havana, but soon radically developed his artistic practice in Europe through study of the work of Old Masters such as Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya, as well as exposure to modern artists such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. While Lam was a part of the vibrant scene in Madrid throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the devastation of the Spanish Civil War led him to move to Paris in 1938 where Picasso, an admirer of Lam’s work, introduced him to the avant-garde circle. His encounter of the surrealist circle and their espousal of the unconscious, dreams and sexuality wholly transformed his practice and set the foundation for the unique hybrid style that he would develop following his return to Cuba in 1941 at the outbreak of World War II.


    Wifredo Lam, atelier in Havana, 1947. Artwork  © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


    After 18 years abroad, Lam not only became acutely aware of the racism, poverty and the vestiges of Colonialist oppression, he also reconnected with the Afro-Cuban culture of his childhood from which he had distanced himself while living in Europe. Lam — a Cuban of African, Chinese, and European descent — clearly embraces hybridity as the very cornerstone of his mature work.

    Cut From the Archives

    On the occasion of the Tate Modern's The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam, Eskil Lam recounts his father's story and shares his memories.



  • Untitled, 1964

    Untitled demonstrates an important evolution in Lam's practice, one that saw him revisit his beginnings as an artist in Europe through the lens of his own multi-cultural upbringing. It was Lam’s return to Cuba that ushered in the unique and radical idiom he is so widely celebrated for. The present work clearly demonstrates how Lam further developed Surrealism within the multi-cultural context of his upbringing.

    Through his godmother, a Santería priestess, Lam immersed himself into Santería, a religion often characterized as a blend of myths and beliefs from West Africa with aspects of Spanish Catholicism. Half-human, half-animal, the figure in Untitled perfectly encapsulates the fantastical, hybrid figures that Lam developed. Exemplifying Lam’s remarkable graphic sensibility, the present work shows a figure in a state of transmogrification — one that is equally reminiscent of the femme cheval (horse-headed woman) motif of Santería and a two-winged horse.

    This work is notably from a series of paintings which, with their graphic clarity and cubist forms, evoke the disfigured horse in Picasso’s Guernica — a motif Lam returned to throughout this late career to explore the cycle of birth and death. Set against a radiating orange background, the apparition here is akin to a healing cosmic force captured in a state of magical metamorphosis.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Paris
      Galerie Thomas, Munich
      Alexander Gray Associates, New York (acquired from the above)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Max Pol Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, Barcelona/Paris, 1976, no. 426, p. 236 (illustrated)
      Max Pol Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, Barcelona/Paris, 1989, no. 458, p. 256 (illustrated)
      Lou Laurin-Lam and Eskil Lam, Wifredo Lam, Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Volume II 1961-1982, Lausanne, 2002, no. 64.22, p. 280 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      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.

      View More Works

Property from an Important Private Collection, California



signed "Wifredo Lam" lower left; further signed "Wifredo Lam" on the reverse
oil on canvas
27 1/2 x 19 1/2 in. (70 x 49.5 cm)
Painted circa 1964, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Lou-Laurin Lam.

Full Cataloguing

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $150,000

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th c. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 2 July 2020