Lot 41
  • 41

WIFREDO LAM | Sans Titre

300,000 - 500,000 EUR
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  • Wifredo Lam
  • Sans Titre
  • oil on canvas
  • 131,1 x 105,5 cm; 51 5/8 x 41 1/2 in.
  • Painted circa 1965.


Private collection, Milan
Galleria Schwarz, Milan
Galerie Tornabuoni, Crans-Montana
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009


Rome, Museo del Corso, Max Ernst e i suoi amici surrealisti, 2002, illustrated in the catalogue p. 83 (under the title Totem)
Milan, Refettorio delle Stelline; Sondrio, Museo Valtellinese di Storia e Arte, Wifredo Lam: un percorso Cuba-Italia, 2002-03, no. 38, p. 84


Lou Laurin-Lam & Eskil Lam, Wifredo Lam, Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, 1961-1982, Lausanne, 2002, vol. II, no. 65.13, illustrated p. 286


It has not been possible to see the work entirely unframed. The canvas is not lined. There is an uneven varnish preventing UV light from fully penetrating, however examination under UV light appears to reveal an area of retouching (approx. 9 cm wide) to the centre part of the lower edge and another area of retouching towards the centre of the composition, a smaller area of retouching towards the left part of the lower edge, intermittent spots of older retouching to the centre of the left edge and scattered small spots and lines of old retouching in areas. There are a few specks of pigment losses, notably to the most thickly applied pigment, probably inherent to the artistic process. There is some minor frame rubbing with associated flecks of paint losses along the extreme edges. This work is in overall fairly good condition.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This painting, Sans Titre [Untitled], also known in the past as Totem, belongs to an important series from the 1960s, when Lam was at the height of his artistic powers. He moved to Paris after spending his formative years in Spain, and at the end of the war, he rediscovered Cuba, where he was born in 1902. Therefore, his works bear witness to a syncretism that draws on the richness of the various cultures that nourished him (Chinese, Cuban, African and European). Incorporating the teachings of Picasso and Matisse, the masters of Cubism, Lam built a language that was completely his own. His paintings turned into large-scale works. While they still exhibit a taste for strangeness and metamorphosis, the range of the colour palette gradually narrowed, moving towards dark background tones with shades of ochre and burnt earth. This deliberate reduction in colour accentuates both the fluency and the hieratic quality of the bodies. These ambiguously white bodies, whose feet push the boundaries of the frame, dance in the dead of night. They are in this intermediate state between high and low, between the world of men and the world of the gods. Seemingly frozen in an uneasy silence, these hybrid figures, which are part-man, part-plant and part-animal, naturally draw on the magical dimension that is ubiquitous in Cuba. In addition to the prodigious magic of the santería, lucumí and voodoo rites, there is a fondness for metamorphoses that permeates daily life, giving it a fundamental poetic dimension. However, Lam’s work should never be regarded as a straightforward illustration of Afro-Cuban beliefs. His paintings are, first and foremost, artistic compositions, and they do not document any particular rituals. While in forced exile to the Caribbean, Lam appropriated images and themes of this African poetry, whose evocative power of revolt he so often extolled. His borrowings from this iconography were then assembled, like a collage, primarily with a view to the visual coherence of the painting. From the 1940s on, Lam associated with André Breton and his friends in the Surrealist group. It was then that he became familiar with the poetics of collage, which he had the opportunity to engage in with other exiles in the group, including Max Ernst, who, like him in 1941, were all waiting in Marseille to be able to leave occupied France. “No, my painting would never be the equivalent of that pseudo-Cuban music for nightclubs. I refused to paint the cha-cha-cha. I wanted with all my heart to paint the drama of my country, but by thoroughly expressing the negro spirit, the beauty of the plastic art of the blacks. In this way I could act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth hallucinating figures with the power to surprise, to disturb the dreams of the exploiters. I knew I was running the risk of not being understood by either the man in the street or by the others. But a true picture has the power to set the imagination to work, even if it takes time.” (Wifredo Lam in André Breton, Le Surréalisme et la Peinture, Paris, 1965, pp. 169-171)

A nomadic spirit marked by the feeling of never quite belonging, Wifredo Lam never hid the impact that the prevailing injustice in the world had on him; rather, he displayed it with great clarity. This painting illustrates both his revolt against evil and his hope that one day peace would return to Earth. “Sometimes Wifredo’s face becomes serious, pained: he thinks of man’s pain, of injustice, of randomness, that he will never accept. Suddenly, Wifredo and Lou’s young children come into the room. And so he smiles, then he laughs, as only he knows how to laugh, as the young laugh.” (Max-Pol Fouchet).