Philomé Obin (1892-1986)H
Philomé Obin was
arguably the greatest of all Haïtian
painters. Only Hector Hyppolite and
Castera Bazile — and possibly
J–E Gourgue, and
André Pierre —
have won comparable critical acclaim, not to speak of commercial
Unlike Hyppolite, Philomé trained scores if not hundreds of artists. His style has dominated the northern or Cap–Haïtien school for over half–a–century; it has been aped by dozens of painters — many talented, most not. Further, Philomé's brother, and a number of his children, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces are significant figures in Haitian art.
Philomé had been painting for many years, most of his life in fact, before DeWitt Peters opened the Centre d'Art. Perhaps without much hope, but because 'I love this art,' he sent a small work to the Centre; Peters immediately recognized his talent and invited him to become a member of the Centre (meaning he would send it works for exhibit and sale). For the next four decades Philomé reigned as Haitian art's greatest living master. Among his finest works was the central mural over the high altar of the Episcopal Cathedral in Port–au–Prince, a city the stern Baptist considered dissolute and much disliked.
visited Philomé several times in his home and studio in Cap–Haïtien.
On one visit I bought, and Philomé signed, the print Harmonieuse
mélodie un Dimanche à la campagne.
commissioned both Le roi Christophe sortant à la Citadelle and Auto–Portrait.
(About the latter see
Greeting me, Philomé was visibly disappointed. 'Ou est madame?' he asked. I'd been with a
young woman when I commissioned the
painting and — as a Haitian who knew Philomé well had told me — 'that old man
never saw a blonde he didn't adore.' (A kitschy ceramic torso of a blonde
stood on the balcony just off Philomé's studio.)
asked Philomé at the time if he'd ever sell it. 'No,' he replied, 'it is
among my most pleasant memories.'
I traded for L'Annonciation with Jonathan Cheek, a collector in the Boston area. I have doubts about the work's authenticity, though Mr Cheek wrote that Ute Steibich, a noted authority, had vouched for it. Assuming that's so, Ms Steibich may have been having a bad hair day.
At the very least someone
other than the master touched the piece, if not a lot more. The
characters, particularly the standing angel, are stiff;
the title is poorly rendered compared to those on other Philomés, with
orthographic errors uncharacteristic of the old man; and what appears to
be an earlier notation is faintly visible,
or painted over, partly below and extending to the right of the title.
similar paintings always have at least some small differences. Unique themes like
Funerailles are then rare. This work was part of the October
2013 Nottingham Contem–porary exhibition of Haitian art and
appears in that exhibit's catalogue, Kafou. (The painting's
title, in Philomé's typically neat hand, is barely visible just to the
right of the guard.)
H In early 2006 Nader's gallery in Coral Gables, Florida, was offering a similar work — same title, same size, but without the damage — for $50,000. It's possible that Philomé, unhappy with the damage to the original, copied it, or that someone else did.
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