Lot 8
  • 8

Wifredo Lam (1902-1982)

600,000 - 800,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Le miel noir
  • signed and dated 1945 lower center; also titled on the stretcher
  • oil on canvas
  • 23 1/2 by 28 5/8 in.
  • 60 by 72.7 cm


Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Galerie Albert Loeb, Paris
Galerie Tiroche, Paris
Galleria Seno, Milan
Dr. Giuseppe Sala, Milan
Thence by descent


New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Lam, Recent Paintings, 1945
New York, Albert Loeb Gallery, Lam Paintings from 1938 to 1962, 1962
Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, September-October 1966; Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, December 1966-January 1967; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, January-March 1967; Stockholm, Moderna Museet, April 8-May 1967; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, May-June 1967, Wifredo Lam, n.n.
Milan, Galleria Seno, Opere scelte di Maestri stranieri, 1970, no. 9, illustrated
Milan, Palazzo Reale, I Surrealisti, 1989, p. 347, illustrated in color
Roma, Accademia di Francia, Villa Medici, November 1992-January 1993; Milano, Palazzo della Permanente, February-March 1993, Wifredo Lam ou L’éloge du métissage, n.n.


Michel Leiris, Lam, Milan, 1970, no. 61, illustrated
Max-Pol Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, Barcelona, 1976,  no. 71, p. 65, illustrated
Alain Jouffroy, "Wifredo Lam", XXème siècle, Paris, 1979, no. 52, p. 29, illustrated
Max-Pol Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, Barcelona, 1989,  no. 71, p. 69, illustrated
Lou Laurin-Lam, Wifredo Lam, Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Volume I, 1923-1960, Lausanne, 1996, no. 45.32,  p. 376, illustrated


This work is in beautiful condition and is ready to hang. The thin canvas is well stretched. The paint layer is clean and unvarnished. There are no retouches. A very faint water mark is apparent in the upper right and upper left wings. A small, one-quarter inch patch is present on the reverse of the canvas, specifically located below the signature.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

By the time of Wifredo Lam’s arrival in Havana, Cuba in August 1941, the thirty-nine year old artist had already positioned himself at the forefront of Europe’s artistic and intellectual milieu. As is often the case, the ambitious young son of a Chinese father and a mulata of European and African parentage returned home a worldly artist conversant in the latest avant-garde movements and eager to embark on the most innovative period of his career.

Once home however, Lam’s locale instantly dislocated him from his European network, a group which included none others than: André Breton, Benjamin Peret, Victor Serge, Claude Levi-Strauss. Albeit isolated from his peers, his recent experience with Surrealism encouraged him to seek self-expression through his own mixed heritage, allowing for a personal examination of his culture as a pathway to modernity.

Merging European modernism with Caribbean sources of inspiration not only proved advantageous from a creative standpoint; it essentially ignited Lam’s characteristic style for the rest of his career. On the island, Lam synthesized Surrealist doctrine and post-Cubist fragmentation of forms into a distinctive vocabulary anchored in Afro-Cuban symbolism: a new methodology of metamorphosing subjects into fantastical quasi-human creatures.

Painted the same year as The Jungle, Lam’s most cited masterwork in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Le miel nour exudes an extraordinary power. At the center, a group of little round skulls with deep dark eyes and horns--a common motif in Lam’s work--emerge from within all-encompassing white feathers. These devilish and yet ingratiating characters are surrounded on the left and bottom of the composition by a landscape of seemingly quickly executed brushstrokes in gorgeous shades of pinks, blues, emerald greens and purples, reminiscent of Fauvist color theory. Vibrant and deeply luminous, they present an aesthetic delight. 

As one of the paintings exhibited at the renowned Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York in the fall of 1945, Le miel noir epitomizes Wifredo Lam's remarkable chromatic mastery at the peak of his career.