Wifredo Lam (Cuban, 1902-1982) Untitled 1968

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Lot 50
Wifredo Lam
(Cuban, 1902-1982)

Sold for £ 87,500 (US$ 117,151) inc. premium
Wifredo Lam (Cuban, 1902-1982)

signed and dated 1968
oil on canvas

50.3 by 40.3 cm.
19 13/16 by 15 7/8 in.


  • We are grateful to Monsieur Eskil Lam for confirming the authenticity of this work.

    This work is accompanied by a photo-certificate of authenticity issued by Monsieur Eskil Lam.

    Galleria d'Arte Cavour, Milan
    Glauco Genesini Collection, Ferrara
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1972

    Max-Pol Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, Paris 1976, p. 242, no. 537, illustrated in black and white
    Max-Pol Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, Barcelona 1989, p. 262, no. 569, illustrated in black and white
    Lou Laurin-Lam and Eskil Lam, Wifredo Lam: Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Volume II, 1961-1982, Lausanne 2002, p. 306, no. 68.23, illustrated in black and white

    As one of the most important players in Twentieth Century avant-garde art, Wifredo Lam created a unique and enchanting aesthetic, conjuring up a shady netherworld inhabited by the strange, the dreamlike, the sublime. In the two following lots, both of which are being offered on the open market for the first time, one sees prime examples of his extraordinary style, a striking vision which evolved from the artist's own personal fusion of cultures, philosophies, experiences and beliefs. In recent years Lam's importance in the development of Surrealism has been increasingly appreciated, a recognition which has only been reinforced by the recent critically-acclaimed retrospective at London's Tate Modern. Combining myth and reality, the spiritual and the political, the palpable and the liminal, these paintings are powerful exemplars of Lam's mature style, presenting us with a number of his archetypal themes and tropes.

    Born in Cuba in 1902 to a Chinese father and a mother descended from both Spanish Conquistadors and African slaves, Wifredo Lam seemed destined to bring a wide range of cultural and ethnic influences to his art. A scholarship allowed the burgeoning young artist to spend time studying in Spain, a period of artistic development, but also of personal tragedy, his first wife and son both dying of tuberculosis in 1931. He became involved in the Spanish Civil War, fighting for the Republicans, but was eventually forced to flee Spain in 1938. He headed for Paris, where he met Pablo Picasso, the Spanish master quickly declaring himself an admirer of Lam's work. In the French capital Lam also became more aware of African Art, and began to move in Surrealist circles. The Second World War quickly brought an end to his stay in France, adding yet more violence and disruption to what had already been a troubled life, with Lam escaping to Cuba in 1941. In the years that followed Lam produced the first paintings which exhibit the distinctive style so effectively realised in the two present works, as primitivism meets Surrealism, and Europe meets Africa.

    These works are surely a record of the dramatic events which punctuated the artist's life, as well as more recent upheavals such as the Cuban Revolution of 1959. It is hard to avoid the echoes of violence, loss, uncertainty and displacement that resonate throughout these powerful images. The figures which dominate these two canvasses are, typical of Lam, strangely disconcerting yet engrossing. Quite what or who they are is far from clear, their heads and bodies a haunting mix of the recognisable and the distorted. Lam was certainly fascinated by the esoteric and the arcane, and many of his works reveal the influence of Santeria, a religion popular in Cuba which combines elements of African belief with Catholic doctrine. Part animal, part human, these are surely spirits, or perhaps even gods, their stylised faces undoubtedly redolent of carved African masks. The space that these enigmatic protagonists inhabit is ill-defined, hollow and blank, the background of the canvasses composed simply of the patchy, earthy hues so often found in Lam's paintings. Pulling together ancient traditions and modernist theory, these works resound with a thrilling sense of the unexplained, the primordial and the supernatural.

    Wifredo Lam himself saw the birth of each painting as an unpredictable, even risky undertaking: "In the presence of a blank canvas, at the moment when we ready ourselves to pursue this adventure, we are suddenly overtaken by a foreboding of instability which alternates between fear and a feeling of non-existence...We are then conveyed at once to the spirit of another world, which, in a totally arbitrary way, disguises reality as we know if, and reduces it to a vehicle of expression" (the artist in: Lowery Stokes Sims, Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, Suatin 2002, p. 183). In these two works, Untitled, 1968 and Untitled, 1970, the viewer is invited to join him on this perilous journey, and are allowed a glimpse into this other world, a place beyond our ken which defies definition. Just what will be encountered there remains unknown; but that, in the end, is all part of the magic of Wifredo's Lam's great artistic adventure.
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