Wifredo Lam - Latin America New York Tuesday, May 26, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Spain
    Art Now Gallery, Sweden
    Private Collection, United States
    Sotheby's, New York, Latin American Paintings, November 16, 2010, lot 17
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Literature

    L. Lam, Wifredo Lam – Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Vol. 1 1923-1960, 2006, p. 342, n. 44.08 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Sans titre, 1944, exemplifies Lam’s signature style, amalgamating art in the Western European tradition with his Afro-Cuban cultural identity. This work - like others from this period - illustrates his exuberant compositions, depicting complex Afro-Cuban figural elements that are emblematic of this body of work. This figural element echoes his iconic leit motifs grounded in African Art and Santería, which he produced in a myriad of variations that would later become much more elaborate and fantastical, ultimately proving to be a unique blend of Afro-Cuban Surrealism and Cubism.

    Lam’s return to Cuba in 1941, although challenging, proved to be a fruitful time during which he became part of the Cuban modernist scene and began to develop his unique visual language of Santería infused images. His introduction during this time to the Cuban intelligentsia provided him with the opportunity to deepen his knowledge of Afro-Cuban symbology and culture in general from an intellectual perspective. This in turn enabled him to develop a complex system of symbols consisting of syncretic objects and personages including double-headed figures with muzzles, excessive limbs, papaya fruit breasts, and a diversity of other metamorphosed forms. The other main defining influence on Lam’s style was African art, which he originally encountered through the personal collections of his colleague and mentor, Pablo Picasso, and his good friend, André Breton. This exposure to African art was crucial, for out of it was born the most important figural element of his oeuvre, the femme-cheval, represented by the half woman, half horse figure depicted in the present lot. The femme-cheval would become an important leit motif in Lam’s work and the symbology of Santería would prove to be the perfect context for this figure.

    For Lam, the metamorphosed figure of the femme-cheval is possessed by a spirit of divinity, which is consistent with the symbol of the horse in Santería. Lam chose to depict the figure using easily identifiable Afro-Cuban imagery, the most obvious being the papaya fruit breasts, which the artist had begun to incorporate into his canvases and works on paper in previous years. Lam purposefully chose to make the femme-cheval a woman, as it was believed that women were possessed much more easily by divine spirits. Lam utilizes the typical monochromatic palette associated with analytical Cubism but the painting is far from a traditional Cubist picture. Rather, Lam draws on elements of Cubism by depicting the femme-cheval from two angles, both frontally and in profile. The two faces seems to represent the double nature of the femme-cheval, with the left face appearing definitively horse-like while the right face closely relates to the types of African masks Lam would have seen in Picasso’s studio in the 1930s. The monochrome palette further highlights the portrait-like nature of this work where the figure is boldly defined by Lam’s Matisse-like bold black contour lines set against a somber background.

    Through this stunning and very sophisticated rendering of a femme-cheval, Lam provides a visual elucidation of Afro-Cuban religion, as well as his own unique brand of Cuban and Surrealist aesthetics, which defined him as an artist during this seminal period and continues to place him at the forefront of international modernism today.

  • 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.

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Sans Titre

oil on canvas
28 x 23 1/4 in. (71.1 x 59.1 cm)
Signed and dated "Wifredo Lam 1944" on lower right. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Lou Laurin-Lam, no. 88-47, dated, March, 1988.

$500,000 - 700,000 

Contact Specialist
Kaeli Deane
Head of Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1352

Latin America

New York 26 May 2015 4pm