I spent nearly two hours at the “Dialogue between believers and non-believers” on the esplanade in front of Notre Dame de Paris, the cathedral radiant in its beauty on that clear night, with spring in the air and Quasimodo’s bells ringing out.
It was an outstanding concert that opened with Paddy Kelly, ex-musician turned priest, with a papal address from Pope Benedict XVI and Gregorian chants, followed by the striking illumination of Notre Dame, just as Victor Hugo would have imagined it. I took a walk across the Petit Pont, the smallest bridge on the Seine in Paris, and, halfway across its 32 metres, I looked out over the river. Picturesque and calm as usual, even when one of the tourist boats appeared, charting its luminescent course for the reservoir.
It was then that I remembered I owed a visit to Wifredo Lam, the distinguished Cuban painter, courted like rarely before in the City of Light, at the exhibition in the Grand Palais about his encounter and friendship with Pablo Picasso and Aimé Césaire. An exhibition relating to the father of Negritude, a beloved figure in France, and two fine artists who left a permanent mark on France, the country most passionate about culture.
“Aimé Césaire, Lam, Picasso – We found ourselves” depicts the Martiniquais writer and poet’s friendship with Lam, the most famous Cuban painter of all time, and Picasso, the master of Cubism and indispensable figure in Paris at the end of the 19th and in the 20th century. Picasso once said to Lam, “I think you have my blood in your veins. You must be one of my relations: a cousin, a nephew”. It was a solid and lasting friendship. After Lam’s move to Madrid and his exile in Paris, he met Picasso; an event that would mark them for life. “I wasn’t wrong about you. You’re a painter”, said the painter from Málaga to the Cuban from Sagua la Grande.
At the end of the day, that two people in the French capital who spoke the same language and shared common roots should make friends was a godsend. They had an influence on each other’s art: Lam on Picasso’s black period and Picasso on Lam’s indigenous work. However, the common theme of the exhibit is Césaire, on the 70th anniversary of his encounter with the Cuban avant-garde painter and their friendship with the prolific Spanish artist.
The three of them had poetry, literature and fine art in common. Each had his own style, although it must not be forgotten that Lam illustrated Césaire’s renowned masterpiece, Return to My Native Land. The exhibit at the gallery near the Champs Élysées is highly symbolic. It takes place during France’s Year of Overseas Territories and UNESCO’s four-year tribute to Césaire, Pablo Neruda and Rabindranath Tagore from 2011 to 2015.A trilogy of remarkable 20th century poets, with emphasis upon Césaire, Lam’s etchings and Picasso’s engravings in the Grand Palais.
The exhibition is located in an intimate part of the gallery. Daniel Maxim, organiser of the exhibition, declared that “Lam and Césaire had a very close friendship that lasted from the moment they met in 1941, when the boat in which the Cuban was travelling, fleeing from the Nazis, arrived in Martinique and was detained by the Vichy regime”.
Also appearing by sea were André Breton, who went on to found the Surrealist movement, as well as anthropologist Claude Lévi Strauss and painter André Masson, all of whom became friends with Césaire and Lam.
“The Annunciation”, a series of watercolours by Lam, is accompanied by verses by Césaire. Having the opportunity to set eyes upon ten paintings from Lam’s series The Jungle, an oil painting and seven drawings by Picasso, as well as books and manuscripts by Césaire, is something of a rarity.
Wifredo Lam was born in Sagua la Grande, Cuba, on 8th December, 1902, and died in Paris on 11th September, 1982. Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain, on 25th October, 1881, and died in Mougins, France, on 8th April, 1973. Aimé Césaire was born in Basse Pointe, Martinique, on 26th June, 1913, and died in Fort-de-France on 17th April, 2008.
(Translated by Kelly Harrison – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)