Lam writes to Varian Fry (1907-1967), the American journalist who ran a rescue network in Vichy, France that helped some 2,000 to 4,000 anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees to escape the Nazis and the Holocaust. Among the artists that Fry helped escape to American were writer Andrew Breton, pianist Heinz Jolles, and artists Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Lipchitz, Max Ernst, Victor Brauner, and Wifredo Lam. Our letter refers to the print that Lam created, "Untitled (for Flight)," as a part of a fundraising portfolio for the International Rescue Committee, a group that helped finance his flight from Europe. Lam addresses his correspondent as "Dear Friend." He thanks Fry for his letter as well as for "all the necessary information from the Rescue Committee in New York to make the litho in question." He says that he is going to Zurich where he "usually works with the engraver Emil Mathieu... where everything will be done." Lam continues, "I am very happy that you have found me because I am truly pleased to be able to do something for the Rescue Committee that helped during a critical and difficult time in my life." He refers to his becoming a client of the Emergency Rescue Committee, "artist no. 998 on Varian Fry’s list of intellectuals and artists to be aided in their flight from fascism" (see Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 1923-1982, by Lowery Stokes Sims, 2001). Lam’s Cuban visa and his having exhibited in New York with Picasso made him a person who qualified for rescue. Lam then enumerates the "friends who are going to miss this artistic event, Benjamin Peret, Victor Brauner, Oscar Domingues and lastly, our great friend Andrew Breton," all of whom had died before the date of this letter. He ends by informing Fry that he will "let you know as soon as the litho is finished." He signs the letter in a large hand, “Wi Lam.” The lithograph, "Untitled (for Flight)," was printed in Zurich in 1967 by Mathieu. It was then published in the limited edition Flight Portfolio originally organized by Varian Fry, but assembled after his death, in 1971 by the International Rescue Committee to raise funds for Holocaust victims. Lam was one of 12 artists who produced prints for this portfolio. Others included Chagall, Miro, Calder and Lipchitz.
Lam studied painting in Havana and in 1923 continued his studies in Spain. After fighting against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, Lam went to Paris where he met Picasso who introduced him to other artists including Miro and Leger. Lam was one of Picasso’s only students. In 1939 Lam met Andre Breton. Lam worked with Andre Breton collaborating on the publication of Breton's poem "Fata Morgana," which Lam illustrated. When the Nazi’s were close to Paris, in 1940, Lam fled to Marseille where he spent time with other artists including Max Ernst and Victor Brauner. He spent time at the Villa Air-Bel, the headquarters of Varian Fry and the International Rescue Committee. When Lam did get rescued, he left for Havana, first spending time in Martinique with Andrew Breton. He later spent time with Breton in Haiti as well. In 1952 Lam returned to settle in Paris and in the 1960s his work showed his interest for engraving. Internationally renowned with works in major museums, Lam’s style has been described as fusing “Western modernism with African and Caribbean symbolism.” [ see wifredo lam website]. The influences of Surrealism, Cubism, African and Cuban cultures combine in his art. His letters rarely become available.