Latin American Art

The Vanguard Spirit: Modern and Surrealist Masterworks From an Important Estate

New York
Sotheby’s to present one of the most distinguished private collections of Surrealist and Modern Art from Latin America ever to appear at auction this June in New York

S otheby’s is honored to present The Vanguard Spirit: Modern and Surrealist Masterworks from an Important Estate as a highlight of our marquee auctions of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art this June in New York.

One of the most distinguished assemblages of Surrealist and Modern art from Latin America ever to appear at auction, this encyclopedic collection of museum-quality works traces the history of 20th-century art. Anchored by an exceptional and diverse ensemble of Surrealist works by masters such as Wifredo Lam, Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, and Frida Kahlo, the collection is equally complemented by outstanding paintings by the most accomplished artists of the Cuban vanguardia, including Mario Carreño, Cundo Bermúdez, Mariano Rodríguez and René Portocarrero, as well as iconic examples by Mexico’s greatest modern artists, including Rufino Tamayo, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Portraying local customs and social realities, this remarkable group contemplates the region’s growing concern with selfhood and national identity.

Sotheby’s will offer 35 works from the collection across our evening and day sales of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art in New York this June, together estimated to sell for in excess of $22 million. More than 200 additional works from the collection will be presented in subsequent sales across multiple categories through fall 2020 and beyond.

"This collection tells the story of Surrealism not only in Latin America, but also as a global phenomenon with cross-currents of culture, migration, empire, politics and gender."
Julian Dawes, Co-Deputy Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department in New York

Sotheby’s live evening and day auctions of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art, previously scheduled for May, will be held in New York the week of 29 June, pending the lifting of certain restrictions and confirmation from the relevant authorities that we can proceed. Clients and visitors can expect extra precautions to ensure the safety of our employees and visitors, as well as creative opportunities for those wishing to preview our exhibitions and participate in our auctions – from in-person and virtual appointment viewings to enhanced digital experiences. We will announce a more detailed schedule in due course, including relevant exhibition plans.

Leonora Carrington, Tuesday, $700,000–900,000. © 2019 Leonora Carrington/ Artists Rights Society (ARS). New York

Julian Dawes, Co-Deputy Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department in New York, said: “We are delighted to offer works from this vast and pioneering collection in our marque auctions this June in New York. The Vanguard Spirit represents many trends of Latin American and 20th-century art, and is perhaps best characterized by its exceptional range of Surrealist works. This collection tells the story of Surrealism not only in Latin America, but also as a global phenomenon with cross-currents of culture, migration, empire, politics and gender. The artists, imagery and themes contained in this group of artworks are the embodiment of the recent reappraisal of Surrealism to incorporate a wider range of nationalities, cultures, and genders, and this collection remains a prescient early example of this expansive thinking. In particular, Sotheby’s has a strong history of presenting works by women Surrealists: from our successful 2015 selling exhibition Cherchez la femme: Women and Surrealism, which was dedicated to celebrating the figures at the heart of this milieu; to establishing new benchmark prices at auction for many of the prolific names featured in this collection, such as Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, as well as Alice Rahon, whose work and that of Leonor Fini are appearing in our New York Evening Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art for the very first time. The demand for pieces by these visionary artists has steadily increased in recent years, and we anticipate that the breadth of works featured in this esteemed group will captivate the imagination of collectors around the world through our sales this June.”

“Spanning over 40 years of enlightened acquisitions, this collection reveals the prescience of a gifted and inquisitive eye—one capable of discerning museum quality artworks before they were coveted by the collecting world at large. “
Anna Di Stasi, Director Latin American Art

Alice Rahon, Los cuatro hijos del arcoiris, $120,000–180,000

Anna Di Stasi, Director of Sotheby’s Latin American Art, remarked: “It is a privilege to present this sensational collection in our marquee New York sales this June. Spanning over 40 years of enlightened acquisitions, this collection reveals the prescience of a gifted and inquisitive eye—one capable of discerning museum quality artworks before they were coveted by the collecting world at large. With the integration of Latin American art into our auctions of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary art, we are uniquely positioned to present such an incomparable artistic achievement on a global stage, where it will be proudly presented alongside other masterpieces of 20th-century art.”


The collection is led by the most outstanding work by Wifredo Lam ever to appear at auction: Omi Obini from 1943, estimated to sell for $8/12 million – the highest pre-sale auction estimate ever placed on a work by the artist.

Wifredo Lam, Omi Obini, $8,000,000–12,000,000. © 2020 Estate of Wifredo Lam/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris

Signifying both the collection’s illustrious quality and extraordinary examples of Surrealism, Omi Obini is magnificent in both its scale and spectacular use of color, and exemplifies the apex of Lam’s fully realized aesthetic vision.

Following the onset of the Second World War, the artist returned to his native Cuba in 1941 after spending 17 years abroad in Europe. Working in tandem and within the circle of Andre Bretón’s Surrealists as well as other avant-garde European artists, Lam pursued the development of a uniquely stunning visual vocabulary. His return to Cuba and the country’s lush tropical landscape along with its vibrant Afro-Cuban culture drove Lam to create an inspired vision, synthesizing mystical and organic elements, all of which are fully realized in Omi Obini.

A testament to its sheer brilliance, the present work is only comparable to Lam’s lauded masterwork painting The Jungle, also executed during the critical year of 1943, and currently on view as part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

These immensely powerful canvases are at once lenses through which Lam examines colonialism and its acute impact on his native Cuba and people of African descent, and simultaneously vibrant vehicles through which he celebrates the exuberance of Afro-Cuban culture and religion. This extraordinary work presents an engrossing amalgamation of European Modernism, enriched with the symbolism of Afro-Cuban culture in a way that is strikingly familiar, yet completely idiosyncratic.

Remedios Varo, Armonfa, $2,000,000–3,000,000. © 2020 Estate of Remedios Varo/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP. Paris

Sotheby’s has a distinguished history of presenting works by Wifredo Lam, having achieved three of the artist’s top auction prices. Lam’s current auction record was established in December 2017, when Sotheby’s in Paris sold A Trois centimètres de le Terre from the collection of Alain & Candice Fraiberger for $5.2 million / €4.4 million (estimate €2.5/3.5 million).

Outstanding examples by women Surrealists include two oils by Remedios Varo: Armonía from 1956 (pictured right, estimate $2/3 million) and Microcosmos (or Determinismo) from 1959 (estimate $1.5/2 million). Exemplary of Varo’s signature fantastical imagery and complex narratives, these intricate works were realized in the final years of her short life. Leonora Carrington's Tuesday, painted in 1946, emerges from a critical decade of her production and illustrates the development of her autonomous artistic identity following her relationship with the Surrealist, Max Ernst (estimate $700/900,000). The work was once in the collection of great British arts patron and eccentric, Edward James, with whom Carrington had a long and meaningful friendship. Leonor Fini's Women on the Terrace from 1938 (estimate $400/600,000) and Alice Rahon's Los cuatro hijos del arcoiris from 1960 (estimate $120/180,000) round out this exceptional group.

Remedios Varo, Microcosmos (or Determinismo), $1,500,000–2,000,000. © 2020 Estate of Remedios Varo/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP. Paris

Also on offer in the evening sale is one of the defining masterworks of Mario Carreño’s career: Cortadores de caña from 1943 (estimate $1.5/2 million). Painted the same year as Lam’s Omi Obini, the present work also manifests elements of European artistic movements such as Cubism and Surrealism, while confronting the social unrest that was taking place in the region at that time. However, unlike Lam, Carreño bolsters his depiction with palpable and unabashed Cubanismo, or Cuban pride, revealing influences of some of Mexico’s most celebrated muralists, such as David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Mario Carreno, Cortadores de cana, $1,500,000–2,000,000. © 2020 Estate of Mario Carreno/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

In the present work, two larger-than-life figures can be seen lunging through stalks of sugarcane, knives in hand and arms outstretched, sweeping back to slice at the roots. A skilled technician, Carreño executed the present work using duco, an industrial paint known for its difficulty to manipulate. While Carreño employed the use of duco only during a brief period of time — some would say, among the most critical years of his decades-long oeuvre — his mastery of this highly complex media takes centerstage in the present work, creating a relief-like, three-dimensional surface which further exaggerates the towering and immersive power of Cortadores de caña.

One of the most iconic images of la vanguardia Cubana, the work was included in the landmark Museum of Modern Art, New York exhibition Modern Cuban Painters, organized in 1944 by founding museum director, Alfred H. Barr.

Rufino Tamayo, Madre Feliz, $1,200,000–1,800,000. © 2019 Tamayo Heirs/ Mexico I Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Sotheby’s established the current auction record for Carreño in May 2007, when we sold Danza afro-cubana, also from 1943, for $2.6 million (estimate $600/800,000) in our Latin American Art auction.
In addition, an impressive selection of works by Mexican masters is led by Rufino Tamayo’s Madre Feliz from 1949 a joyful canvas that demonstrates the artist's mastery of figural abstraction and dynamic use of color (estimate $1.2/1.8 million).


Superlative examples of Mexican Modernism from the collection will be on offer in our day sale of Impressionist & Modern Art. The group is highlighted by two extremely rare and historical works by José Clemente Orozco from 1941: La Cantina (estimate $600/800,000) and Acordada (Caballos y zapatistas) (estimate $500/700,000). The two oils are coming to auction this June during a time of renewed interest in Mexican art, coinciding with the current exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925 – 1945, which explores relationships of influence between Mexican and United States artists throughout the 20th century.

Additional important works by Rufino Tamayo and Alice Rahon will also be featured in the June Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale. Created in 1970, Figuras is a striking large-scale and abstract canvas from Rufino Tamayo’s mature production (estimate $1.5/2 million), and Alice Rahon’s rare Self-Portrait (Autorretrato) from 1951 (estimate $80/120,000).


Highlights from the collection on offer in our day auction of Contemporary Art include Fernando Botero’s The President from 1971, in which the artist satirizes systemic political corruption in Latin America, one of the most celebrated themes in his oeuvre (estimate $800,000/1.2 million).

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