Monthly Archives: April 2014

How old is this little mirror?

Chokwe mirror

I’m currently researching a Chokwe divination basket from Angola and among the many objects it contains I encountered the above mirror (ca. 4 cm high). Clearly it’s European, but I would like to find out how old it actually is. So don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have an idea. Thanks.

UPDATE: A Portuguese reader send me several pictures of related mirrors made in the 1950s-1960s by two Portuguese companies named LUSO and OSUL. Another reader from Portugal dates the style of the portrait to the 1920s. A last reader informed me that in 19th century Spain it was a tradition to give these vanity mirrors (with a female print on the back) as a present to a lover.  Though of a different theme, the OSUL mirror is indeed very similar in construction. The Portugal- Angola connection does support this line of reasoning. Thanks all !

OSUL mirror Portugal

LUSO mirror Portugal

Three Dutch ethnographic museums merge

Tropenmuseum, Afrika museum en Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde National Museum of World Cultures

The Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde in Leiden en the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal last week merged to one new museum: the National Museum for World Cultures. Visitors won’t notice the merger; all three museums remain open and keep their old names. The new name will mainly be used internationally. It was already known that the three museums had to merge to ensure the Tropenmuseum’s survival. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t want to subsidies it any longer and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science only wanted to provide funds if the museum merged with the Leiden en Berg en Dal museums. The Tropenmuseum stops being a part of the Royal Institute for the Tropics, though it remains located on its premises. All of its curators from now on will be stationed in Leiden. There are plans to extensively reconstruct the Tropenmuseum (at a cost of € 30 million), but no funds are made available for now. The World Museum of Rotterdam, a municipal and not a state museum, doesn’t participate in the merger.

Sotheby’s Paris to sell Murray Frum’s collection of Oceanic art

Murray Frum

On 16 September 2014, Sotheby’s Paris will offer the collection of Oceanic art from Polynesia and Melanesia formed by the late Murray Frum. It is the most significant group to come to market in the last thirty years. The Collection of approximately 70 works contains a rich variety of exceptionally rare objects with distinguished provenance. Unique in these times are the group of pre-contact Polynesian pieces, which form the heart of the collection. The collection as a whole is valued at € 6 million to € 9 million; with about a dozen items priced at under € 5,000,-.

Murray Frum (1931-2013) was a Canadian real estate developer. His parents had emigrated to Canada from Poland in 1930, and he grew up in Canada. It was a visit to New York in the late 1950s to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that sparked his passion for collecting. Over the next fifty years, he assembled an extraordinarily diverse collection of African, Oceanic, Pre-Columbian, Silver, Art Deco, and Renaissance art as well as Canadian paintings. Murray became known not only for his discerning eye and tremendous curiosity about the objects which he displayed elegantly in his home which he built with the modernist architects (Ron Thom, Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe), but he was also a tremendously generous philanthropic man. He loaned objects from his collection around the world, and his African collection was published and exhibited in 1980 by the great African art curator, William Fagg, ex-keeper of the British Museum. In addition, he gave part of his African art collection to the Art Gallery of Ontario. His deliberate choice of the Art Gallery for his collection demonstrated Frum’s deep conviction that tribal art should be considered as art, and not as ethnographical specimens. Click here for an overview of some of the highlights. This eulogy by one of his sons is also a must read.

UPDATE: click here for a short video of Frumm giving a small tour of his private collection as well as his collection at The Art Gallery of Ontario.

Head of a Staff God, Rarotonga, Cook Islands This magnificent sculpture is a sacred object from one of the rarest sculptural traditions in Polynesia. Formerly in the James Hooper Collection, it is the upper part of a large staff, which would have measured around 12 feet in length. The missionary John Williams claims to have destroyed the majority of these images during his time on Rarotonga between 1827-1828. Only twenty staff gods survived the early 19th century missionary presence on this small island, and most are today in museums. The Frum staff god is the first of this quality to come to auction in nearly 20 years.

Head of a Staff God, Rarotonga, Cook Islands This magnificent sculpture is a sacred object from one of the rarest sculptural traditions in Polynesia. Formerly in the James Hooper Collection, it is the upper part of a large staff, which would have measured around 12 feet in length. The missionary John Williams claims to have destroyed the majority of these images during his time on Rarotonga between 1827-1828. Only twenty staff gods survived the early 19th century missionary presence on this small island, and most are today in museums. The Frum staff god is the first of this quality to come to auction in nearly 20 years. Estimated € 1,5 – 2,5 million.

Basden’s footage of Igbo masquerades and dances (1920s-1930s)

Basden Igbo dances movie

George Thomas Basden (1873-1944), who held a Church Missionary Society post in the Igbo town of Onitsha from 1900 until 1935, is especially known for the two large volumes on Igbo culture which he published (Among the Ibos of Nigeria, 1921 – which you can read here, and Niger Ibos, 1938). Less known is that The Bristol Record Office holds 10 reels filmed on 16mm during the 1920s and 30s by Basden among the Igbo. You can watch 17 minutes of one of the reels here. It features very rare footage of dancing competitions, various masks (Umu-Chuku, Mbaku & Amanuke. Grandfather Maw, Enu-Ugwu-Abaw; Spirit maidens (Aghogho Mmonwui); District Officer masks (Onyeocha); Native Police masks. Nibo. Umu-Chuku Maws & Mgbedike masks) and two figures being danced. Unfortunately the films are silent, but it’s quite a spectacle to see nevertheless.

Basden Igbo dances figure masks film

New African art museum in China

Unfortunately not of the African art you are expecting. In Songzhuang, Beijing’s biggest artist community in the eastern suburbs of the city, a retired Chinese couple, Li Songshan and Han Ron have constructed a new art center. With 13 buildings covering 1,000 square meters, the center, which is called African Tribe, has hundreds of Makonde carvings in ebony the couple have brought back from Africa over the past 30 years. It will be completed and open to the public in May, and will be the first privately owned non-profit organization in China dedicated to promoting African culture. African Tribe is composed of four parts: the African Art Experiencing and Exhibition Hall, African Artist Workshop, African craft shops run by Africans, and the African Makonde Art Institute. Prior to the establishment of African Tribe, Li and Han had donated more than 12,000 African woodcarvings and paintings they had collected from Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and other southeastern African countries to the Changchun municipal government. Then a Songshan Hanrong African Art Collection Museum was built to display the collection, allowing local people a close look at these pieces. The museum is the first of its kind to specialize in foreign art and the collection was the largest donation of foreign art since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Read more about it here.

Li Songshan and his wife Han Rong. Photo courtesy of the China Daily.

Li Songshan and his wife Han Rong. Photo courtesy of the China Daily.

Articles wanted (Verly, Holas, Delafosse)

Dear all, I can’t seem to find any of the three articles below, so if someone could help me, please get in touch. Thanks.

  • Verly (P.-L.), L’inspiration bovine dans l’art baoulé et sénoufo, Annales de l’Université d’Abidjan, Série Ecologie, I, no. 2, 1968: pp. 359-366
  • Holas (B.), Sur quelques divinités Baoulé de rang inférieur; leurs figurations, leur rôle liturgique, in: 4e conferencia internacional de africanistas occidentales, Santa Isabel de Fernando Poo, 1951, vol. II (Medio Humano), Direccion general de Marruecos y colonias, Madrid, 1954: pp. 9-50 (possibly the same as the text published in Bulletin de l’IFAN, Dakar, vol. 18, 1956: pp. 408-432 ?)
  • Delafosse (M.), The Baule People of the Ivory Coast Interior and Their Religious Beliefs, The West African Mail, 12 August 1904: pp. 42-64; 2 September 1904: pp. 535-537

Auction tip: André Blandin collection of African bronzes

LOMBRAIL - TEUCQUAM André Blandin bronzes

Next Saturday, 5 April 2014, the French auction house Lombrail-Teucquam will sell the André Blandin collection. Mostly bronzes, the sale includes some very rare and hard to find objects. Blandin’s 1988 publication Bronzes et autres alliages, which features many of these objects as well as the cover lot, is still one of the reference books for the bronze collector. The same can be said for Fer Noir from 1992 concerning iron African objects. Blandin’s 400 Objets africains pour la vie quotidienne lastly is essential for the collector of objects of daily use. For me, these three publications perfectly illustrate how a passionate collector can make substantial contributions to the African art scholarship. You can browse the 230 lots in detail here or download the catalogue here.

US museum receives $1.5M to endow new African art curator

Vili nkisi nkondi figure. Height: 103,5 cm. Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern. Image courtesy of Michigan Museum of Art (2005/1.192).

Vili nkisi nkondi figure. Height: 103,5 cm. Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern. Image courtesy of Michigan Museum of Art (2005/1.192).

A $1.5 million gift is being used to establish and endow a new curatorial position in African art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. The museum announced that the gift is from longtime supporters Helmut and Candis Stern. The Helmut and Candis Stern Curator of African Art will be an addition to the museum’s curatorial posts in Western, Asian, and contemporary art. Helmut Stern began collecting modern European and American art in the 1950s, and his focus shifted to African art in the 1980s. In 2005, Candis and Helmut donated 90 works of Congolese art to the Museum; many of them are now among the most popular works within UMMA’s broad collections. You can read more about the Stern gift here.