Wifredo Lam - Latin America New York Wednesday, November 18, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gift from the artist to Private Collection
    Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Art I, June 26, 1997
    Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

  • Literature

    L. Lam, Wifredo Lam - Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Vol. 1 1923 - 1960, 2006, p. 485, No. 60.16 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot belongs to an intriguing period in Wifredo Lam’s extraordinary oeuvre, in which his mature style evolved. This change built on his masterfulness and it reiterated his constant evolution as an artist, reflecting his continuous inventiveness and redefining his singular visual language of Afro-Cuban Surrealism and Cubism.

    During this period, Lam continued to explore the relations between the metaphysical world and our own. Starting in the 1950s his figures were contoured by strong lines, which led to a new development in his work. From that moment Lam began to depict a more formal and pictorial vocabulary that resulted in flat disjointed figures and forms. The alternating tension between surface and line is precisely what allowed him to expand his surreal vocabulary into one that depicted the interchange between the empirical and metaphysical worlds.

    The current lot depicts what appears to be the figure of the Femme-Cheval, a central motif in Lam’s painting from this period. Evolving from a standing figure to a sitting one, the Femme-Cheval gradually came forward in later compositions like this one, with an overtly more frontal depiction while other figures were reabsorbed into the background. Lam would eventually portray the Femme-Cheval in a much more stylized manner, with an elongated neck and opulent posture, in a similar manner to his Femme assise. During this time Lam continued to render the orishas, eleguas, extra limbs, papaya breasts, and other Afro-Cuban imagery, but the imagery became much more abstract, stylized, and reductive. He also began experimenting with other media such as sculpture and the figures thus became more isolated. From 1956 on, the composition of these paintings were characterized by the concentration of the main figures in the center of the canvas. Furthermore, the outer areas of the surrounding canvas were left empty and the palette of the background often became black or dark green.

    The present lot embodies all these new changes: the two main figures have been brought forward to a more frontal view and the composition has been simplified to the point of near flatness—with the exception of the Femme-Cheval’s shadow which creates a sense of depth in the painting. Curiously the elegua (the small white round head) is not reabsorbed into the background as is usually the case, but is part of the frontal figures in this work. What is interesting about these changes within the trajectory of his practice is that it marks a moment when Lam’s inspiration shifts from a purely Cuban context and, additionally, transcends the concerns of Surrealism. Truly, Untitled, 1960, and other paintings from this period have attained a universal dimension attesting to Lam’s ability to “transform the nature of the discourse about modernism and the concepts, but that in doing so, the artist need not give up his formal independence and technique, nor lose his integrity” (L. Lam, Lam – Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work Volume I 1923-1960 Lausanne, 1996, p.164).

  • 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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oil on canvas
53 3/4 x 47 1/4 in. (136.5 x 120 cm)
Signed, dedicated and dated "Wifredo Milano 1960" on the reverse.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $485,000

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

Latin America

New York Auction 18 November 2015 6pm