Monthly Archives: July 2014

African art at the Louvre Abu Dhabi

Dogon-Soninke figure. Height: 76,2 cm. Image Courtesy of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo: Sotheby's.

Dogon-Soninke figure. Height: 76,2 cm. Image Courtesy of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo: Sotheby’s.

Opening in December 2015, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will be the first universal museum in the Arab world. The museum will present all civilizations and cultures, and – unlike the Paris Louvre –  modern and contemporary art will also be exhibited. Several French museums (such as the Louvre, Musée Versailles, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Musée Guimet, the Musée d’Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, and the Musée du Quai Branly) will be loaning works for the permanent galleries and exhibitions during the first ten years.

In the meantime the Louvre Abu Dhabi has been discretely building a collection of its own; you can see a list of some of these works here – among others a stool by Martin Legrain (bought from the collection of Yves Saint Laurent for € 457,000), which has a very familiar shape (see below). A preview exhibition of its latest acquisitions, Birth of a Museum, is currently on view at the Louvre in Paris. The idea is to show the commitment of the government of Abu Dhabi to acquire works of art for their permanent public collection. More than 160 of its finest masterpieces will be on view until July 28th. The online presentation of the collection (here) features one object from sub-Sahara Africa: a Dogon-Soninke figure from Mali (illustrated above). This 13th century statue was bought from a private collector from NY who had acquired it during Sotheby’s sale of the Chaim Gross collection in 2009. Estimated $ 400,000-600,000, it was sold for $ 530,000 (info). Clearly the quality level of the African art in the collection will be extremely high. As everybody, I’m of course very curious about their other acquisitions..

Pierre Legrain (1888-1929), Curule Stool, c. 1920-1925. Beech coloured like walnut tree - 53 x 49.5 x 30 cm. Image Courtesy of the  Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo: Christie’s.

Pierre Legrain (1888-1929), Curule Stool, c. 1920-1925. Beech coloured like walnut tree – 53 x 49.5 x 30 cm. Image Courtesy of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo: Christie’s.

Trade beads from J.F. Sick & Co at the Tropenmuseum

J.F. Sick & Co trade beads

The extensive J.F. Sick and Co. trade bead sample card collection at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam recently became consultable online here (note that you need to install Microsoft Silverlight on your computer). One may zoom in on the beads on each card and a side bar provides dating and other information. This collection is extensively discussed in the 2006 book, The Bead Goes On: The Sample Card Collection with Trade Beads from the Company J.F. Sick & Co. This German (later Dutch) company was one of the most important exporter of beads to West Africa in the first half of the twentieth century. When in 1964 the firm closed its office in Venice, it donated the sample collection of some 22,000 Venetian glass beads kept in its head office in Amsterdam to the Tropenmuseum. Compliments for the Tropenmuseum for making this important collection available online in such high resolution.

J.F. Sick & Co trade beads tropenmuseum

A mystery figure from the Vérité Collection

Image courtesy of the Africarium collection.

Image courtesy of the Africarium collection.

Even after many hours of research, the above figure remains an enigma to me. It was once sold as Baule, but its extraordinary size (98 cm high) is very a-typical for Baule anthropomorphic statuary. Focusing on the hairdo, Attié has been suggested. Clearly this figure is very old, perhaps even older than we think. Such an eroded state is also not something one easily encounters in Ivory Coast sculpture. The biggest mystery might be the presence of the large cavity at the center of the back – see the pictures below. So if you have any suggestions about the origin of this figure, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Image courtesy of the Africarium collection.

Image courtesy of the Africarium collection.

Image courtesy of the Africarium collection.

Image courtesy of the Africarium collection.

UPDATE: a reader was so kind to mail me this male Baule figure from the Herbert Baker collection, which, at 105 cm, is even taller. The back of the figure apparently is as eroded, though the face obviously is in a much better condition and has some kind of crown on top. Next to size, the elongated body and small hands are indeed very similar to the Vérité figure. But if our figure is indeed Baule, what about the cavity?

Herbert Baker Baule figure

UPDATE 2: Several people have suggested Mbembe (looking at the arms, hair and surface)