Wifredo Lam, ‘Midnight’, 1962, Phillips

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Lou Laurin-Lam.

From the Catalogue:
“I have made the journey of Christopher Columbus in reverse,” Lam remarked in 1972,” from the Antilles to Liguria.” His transatlantic crossings had begun a half-century earlier, when he first left Havana for Madrid in 1923, and shaped his practice in the intervening decades as he traveled from Paris to Martinique, Caracas to New York. The most internationally acclaimed artist of Cuba’s historical vanguardia, Lam traveled betwixt the Paris of Picasso and the Afro-Cuban rituals of the island, imaging the strange and surreal confluences of Western and “primitive” cultures in paintings—famously, The Jungle (1943)—that probed the colonial past and present. He left the revolutionary tumult in Cuba in April 1958 and eventually settled between Zurich and Albissola, where he found respite in the mild Mediterranean climes and entered a period of retrospection in his work. Warmly received by the community of artists there, he embarked on new experiments with printmaking and ceramics and celebrated the birth of his sons Eskil (1961) and Timour (1962). “Albissola, a traditional centre of Italian ceramics, was a hub of excitement, activity and artistic exchange at the time my father was there,” Eskil has recalled. “My mother called it ‘Albissolamania.’ She remembers one occasion when [Enrico] Baj and [Sergio] Dangelo, together with [Lucio] Fontana, Roberto Crippa and Piero Manzoni, came to welcome them off a train from Paris, reciting poetry and handing them enormous panettoni.”

The Albissola years saw new distillations of his iconography, the mythology of familiar characters—orishas, femmes-cheval—rendered in increasingly clarified visual forms. “Now [Lam’s] color is cleaner,” James Johnson Sweeney wrote of his painting from this period, “the elements of his composition swim clear against the grounds that are always laden with hints, suggestions…which grow directly out of the medium itself and its application—not arbitrary conventions with readily legible forms.” This refinement is seen in such works as Près des Îles Vierges (1959) and Les enfants sans âme (1964) as well as in Midnight, in which minimally drawn figures materialize out of a tenebrous ground. “While cubism and surrealism were essential to the development of his style, his painting was always something on its own, and even more so in the later years—the work is more abstract, the hybrid figures more menacing,” his son Eskil observed. “By the time he’s in Albissola, you tend to see monochrome backgrounds with hardly any detail, often just a simple wash—everything becomes concentrated in the line.”

Midnight is an elegant example of Lam’s painting during this time and its slippages between figure and ground, syncretic and rhetorical bodies. A variation of the rarefied femme-cheval motif predominant in his work since the late 1940s, the central figure rises gracefully in space, her equine neck slender and seductive. Its arching, attenuated form is echoed in the spike that protrudes from her back and in the almost incorporeal tail that dissolves into an outlined form suggestive of the deity Eleggua, identified by his round head and horns; traces of his body hover to the right, his presence multiple and occult. A personification of ritual possession in the Afro-Cuban religion of Lucumí, or Santería, which Lam studied as a child with his godmother, the femme-cheval embodies the carnality of the feminine body and its transgressive prowess. Dimly luminous, Midnight evokes the darkness of the witching hour in velvety washes of pigment that envelop its subject, her figure receding into and out of the shadowy ground, within and beyond this world.

Abigail McEwan, PhD
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: signed and dated "Wi Lam 1962" lower left

Paris, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, V Salon de Grands et Jeunes d'aujourd'hiu, hommage à Jean Cocteau, 1963-1964

L. Lam, Wifredo Lam - Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Vol. 2 1961 - 1982, 2006, p. 262, No. 62.28 (illustrated in black and white)
E. Jaguer, Les armes miraculeuses de Wifredo Lam, Art International, IX, Lugano, June 1965, no. 5, p. 22 (illustrated in black and white)

Albert Loeb Gallery, New York
Pyramid Galleries, Washington DC
Acquired from the above from the above by the present owner

About Wifredo Lam

A major early 20th-century painter, Wifredo Lam fused elements of Cubism and Surrealism with African culture in paintings that were exhibited alongside those of Pablo Picasso and other Cubists and Fauvists. A native Cuban, Lam hailed from Chinese, European, Indian, and mixed-African descent, and he was deeply influenced by African spiritual practices such as Santeria. He studied in Spain under the same teacher as Salvador Dalí and became a friend of Picasso after moving to Paris in 1938. After returning to Havana in 1941, Lam began producing paintings that were dominated by hybridized human-animal-vegetal figures. There he produced his most famous work, The Jungle (1943), which depicted four grotesque figures with mask-like faces emerging from dense vegetation, and has drawn comparisons with Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica (1937).

Cuban, 1902-1982, Sagua La Grande, Cuba, based in Cuba