Lam was the eighth child of an elderly man of Cantonese origin established in Cuba, and of an Afro-Hispanic woman. In 1918 he enrolled at the Fine Arts School in Havana. In 1923 he moved to Madrid, where he studied at the studio of Alvarez de Sotomayor and attended the Academia Libre de Paisaje. The works exhibited at the Prado and at the Archaeological Museums had a great impact on him, as did the art of Anglada and Zuloaga. He travelled around and painted landscapes, still lifes and portraits. In 1931 both his wife and son died of tuberculosis, and this event provoked in him a bitter crisis. As a result, Lam began to paint maternity scenes in oneiric surroundings. During the Spanish Civil War he volunteered on the republican side, but he fell ill and spent his convalescence at the spa of Caldes de Montbui, near Barcelona. In 1938 he moved to Paris, where he befriended Picasso, whom he greatly admired, and who introduced him to his circle and to the gallery owner Pierre Loeb. In 1940, with the arrival of the German army, Lam fled to Marseilles, where he met Breton again, whose poem Fata Morgana he illustrated. With him and with Lévi-Strauss he sailed to America, but before he managed to reach Cuba he was detained in a concentration camp in Martinique. In 1942 Breton wrote the presentation of his exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. By then, in his art Lam had fused Surrealism and his Afro-Cuban background, the totemic force of santería, and the exuberance of the Caribbean flora. After 1946 his art became more mature; Lam spent some time in Tahiti, and Breton dedicated to him La nuit à Haïti. He shared his life between Paris, New York, Havana and Albisola, in Italy, obtaining international acknowledgement. In 1955 he met Lou Laurin, who became his third wife. In the 1960s there were important retrospective exhibitions of Lam's works, and he organised activities in revolutionary Cuba, such as the Parisian Salon de Mai which was held in Havana in 1967, and the Cultural Congress of 1968. In 1978 he suffered a stroke which confined him to a wheelchair, and he died in Paris on 11 September 1982.

Carmen Bernárdez-Sanchís