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Blog - Grand Auctions

Wifredo Lam at Tate Modern


It is a lucky coincidence that we are selling one of Charles Newington’s major paintings at the same time there is a major exhibition of the paintings of Wifredo Lam at the Tate Gallery. Unfortunately the exhibition is at Tate Modern, a building I greatly dislike. Lam, together with Roberto Matta, has been one of the inspirations for Charles’s work throughout his life. Lam was born in Sagua La Grande, Cuba with a Chinese father and a mother of Spanish/African heritage, an interesting mix. He was given money by his home town to attend art school in Madrid. Unknown to many in his later life, Lam studied in detail the work of the Old Masters and developed a career as a portrait painter.

Introduction to Picasso

In the Spanish civil war he fought for the Republicans against Franco, often being used to design posters. While he was recovering from wounds in Barcelona, he met a friend of Picasso, who gave him a priceless introduction. Lam went to Paris and there struck up a friendship with the great man. Picasso was also to influence his work, which was turning right away from his academic portraits to a more surrealist and African style.

Painting the drama

In Paris he met most of the avant garde painters of the day, but in 1940 had to flee from the invading Germans. He luckily caught the last train to leave. He then managed to catch a boat to America, but was not allowed into the United States because he came from a neutral country. He thus had to return home to Cuba. In pre Castro Cuba, he hated the corruption and poverty of the country and vowed to “paint the drama of my country but by thoroughly expressing the Negro spirit, the beauty of the art of the blacks.” He also said he would “spew forth hallucinatory images with the power to surprise, to disturb the dreams of the exploiters.” His most famous painting, La Jungla, clearly shows all these influences, as well as his study of botany. It was at this time that he painted some of his most powerful, interesting and famous work.


France and Italy

Lam moved back to France and fame. His last move was to Italy, where he died. His main aim in his art was the universality of a human being. He certainly was such a man with his mixed racial background, his diverse art influences and his many moves around the world.

Blue Cuba 8

Blue Cuba 8 by Charles clearly shows the influence Lam’s work of this period has had on his own paintings. The amazing shapes and complex structure need a deep and studied viewing. Both painters cannot be appreciated with a quick glance, the more you look, the more you see.


Wilfredo Lam 1902-1982. Exhibition at Tate Modern runs 14th September 2016 - 8th January 2017.

If you have any paintings you would like to have valued, please contact Jonathan Riley of Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent.

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