Discoveries Research

The Baule figure in “La maladie noire” identified

Baule figure. Height: 68 cm. Image courtesy of The Barnes Foundation (A221).
Baule figure. Height: 68 cm. Image courtesy of The Barnes Foundation (A221).

Thanks to a tip of a kind reader, I’ve been able to localize the Baule figure featured in the previously described “La maladie noirepostcard: it’s currently held by the Barnes Foundation (info). Albert C. Barnes in all likelihood acquired it directly from Paul Guillaume between 1922 and 1924 (like the majority of the collection).

Further sleuthing revealed the original black&white image of the statue which Albert Guillaume used as an inspiration for his postcard; it was published in 1926 by Thomas Munro and Paul Guillaume in Primitive Negro Sculpture” (p. 89 & 91, #21). Albert Guillaume only slightly exaggerated the buttocks and clearly truthfully reproduced the statue in his postcard.

Baule figures Barnes La maladie noire Guillaume

This makes this postcard even more exciting, as it may have represented an event that really happened – so I started wondering about all those characters: the portrayed collector might be Dr. Albert C. Barnes himself (although he was not bald). Anyhow, the man behind him clearly is no one other than Paul Guillaume ! Note his typical mustache and hairdo.

Albert C. Barnes

Paul Guillaume

In the just-published catalogue about the African Art collection of the Barnes Foundation (details here), where the sculpture is published as Plate 20b, Susan Vogel notes (p. 132) that “the figure was among the most expensive African sculptures that Barnes acquired, and it remained one he considered very important: he had it reproduced in tile at the museum entrance and it was prominently published”. Barnes himself published the figure as 14th century in an essay, “The Temple” in the May 24 issue of Opportunity (reproduced by Christa Clarke on p. 57). That date might seem funny, but know that Paul Guillaume used to attach metal labels with such dates on the Inagaki bases he had made for his objects 🙂

ps apologies for the radio silence on my blog these last weeks, I was very occupied with the Paris auctions – on which more later..

UPDATE: a reader has suggested the man on the left in all likelihood is no other than the Felix Féneon !

Felix Feneon


UPDATE2: David Zemanek just informed me that the round object hanging on the curtains in the back in fact is a Songye dance shield – Bonhams sold a similar (rare and unusual) shield in 2007 (info).

Image courtesy of Bonhams.
Image courtesy of Bonhams.
Discoveries Opinions

Postcard of the day: “La maladie noire”

Salon de Paris La maladie noire Guillaume postcard Bruno Claessens


I love this postcard. It’s called “La maladie noire” – which freely translates to “The craze for African art”. It is a drawing by Albert Guillaume – I don’t know if he’s related to the famous Paul Guillaume. Looking at the dresses of the women I would say it’s from the 1920s. That the scene is taking place in Paris we know from the title “Salon de Paris”. Central in the scene is a wooden female figure from the Baule (Ivory Coast). On its right we see it’s owner, cigar in the mouth, hands in his pockets, he’s pleased to show off his new acquisition, but his mind is already somewhere else. On his left, his wife rests one hand on his shoulder, while supporting her head with the other; “Mon dieux, what do I have to do with this black goddess in my house?” you see her thinking. Her friends, sitting down, are as mystified about the presence of this enigmatic, yet voluptuous sculpture central in the salon. Most left, an art-critic (or a merchant?) raises his hands, awe-struck by this exotic beauty and praising the eye of the collector. On the right, behind the owner, we find two fellow-collectors. The first, chin up, clearly is convinced that this statue is inferior to the one he has in his own collection; while the man most right has a rather mean posture – with hate observing this craze for African art that is taking place all around him in the Parisian art circles. In other words, most likely a perfect rendering of what was happening in the salons those days – and sometimes still is..

UPDATE: a reader was so kind to send me a link with more information about Albert Guillaume, find it here.

UPDATE 2: in the meantime, I was able to localize the Baule statue, identified 3 of the featured persons and discovered what that round object in the background is – read all about it here.

News Objects

A pair of Mbala figures reunited during BRUNEAF 2015

Mbala couple Julien Flak reunited

A nice story from BRUNEAF: Julien Flak was exhibiting a female Mbala figure (which he had recently bought at Sotheby’s – info), when a local private dealer remarked he possessed its male pendant. He went home to collect it and not long after the two figures were reunited after being separated for about half a century: the female figure had been in the US since the 1970s, while the male figure had left Congo much later. Note how the female figure is bigger than the male statue. Unfortunately the male figure had lost its penis. Julien Flak of course did not hesitate and was able to buy the figure. Of course we don’t know if the two figures in fact ever were used together (the patina does differ) – however, it is clear that they were made by the same sculptor. They did look happy to be together again.

ps during Parcours des Mondes 2013 I witnessed an even more important reunion, read all about it here.

Mbala Suku couple Congo Flak

Back Mbala figures Bruneaf Perls Galleries Patric Claes

Auctions News Research

Notes on a Luba bowstand by the Warua Master (to be sold by Christie’s London)

Image courtesy of Christie's.
Image courtesy of Christie’s.

On 9 July 2015, Christie’s London is offering a spectacular Luba bowstand from D.R. Congo attributed to the Warua Master. It will be included in a special auction called “The Exceptional Sale” (info) – bringing a selection of decorative arts, and two important African art objects as well. To have another work by this artist on the market only two months after Sotheby’s NY sold a male statue by this artist (info) is exceptional. That figure was sold for $ 3,6 million (est. $ 3-5 million), the bowstand (by many considered the reference object of this artist and with an even more impressive provenance and publication and exhibition history) is estimated at $ 2,4 – 3,9 million.

The catalogue note (here) was written by Bernard de Grunne, famous for his identifications of master hands and thus well suited for the task. He gives an interesting overview of the various pseudo-names given to this artist through the years and suggests a new name:

This anonymous sculptor has been assigned various conventional names which I list here in chronological order: The Frobenius 1904 Warua Master by Susan Vogel in 1986, the Warua Master by Ezio Bassani in 1990, The Master of the Court of Sopola by François Neyt in 1993 and again the Warua Master by Heinrich Schweizer in 2015. I had suggested in my 2001 catalogue the name Kunda Master, a denomination used subsequently by Petridis in his publication. The Kunda were one of the most important and ancient royal clans of the Eastern Luba, which produced such amazing talent as the Kateba workshop (also know as the Buli Master) and the great Boyo art styles.

The highest concentration of geographical provenance of works by this sculptor are found on both sides of the Luvua River, at the crossroads of Luba, Hemba, Tabwa and Boyo art styles. Of the nine works by this Master, we have the exact geographical origin for one piece, the bowstand from an American Private Collection. It was given to the private collector by Chief Kahulu Ngoy in the village of Kishiale near Piana-Mwanga, the capital of the Batempo Chiefdom, not far from Kiambi. According to Maesen, the Tervuren figure was also collected between 1902 and 1903 not far from Kiambi by Rusmont in the village of Pweto, on the north bank of the Luvua River. The statue from my father’s collection was found in a village near Kiambi according to Dartevelle. Three works of this artist being collected near this river, the Luvua Master could be considered a proper pseudo-name.

In the catalogue note of the male statue sold by Sotheby’s earlier this year, Heinrich Schweizer in his turn wrote:

The name (The Warua Master) was chosen in reference to a male-female janus-figure in the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin (inv. no. “III.C.19996”) which was collected by the German ethnographer Leo Frobenius in 1904 and labeled by him as “Warua”. While the name has been criticized as too vague and non-descriptive (“Warua” is the Arabic pronunciation of “Baluba”, i.e., “the Luba people”, and was widely used at the time for both the inhabitants as well as the territory west of Lake Tanganyika and north of Lake Moero), none of the other suggested names of convenience convince as they are either just as vague and non-descriptive, or not sufficiently supportable by evidence.

However, as the information gathered by Bernard de Grunne shows, a shift from Warua Master to Luvua Master would more precisely reflect the known geographical distribution of three of his works. But as he himself states, it remains to be seen if this will be accepted in future publications. Note that Christie’s is still using ‘The Warua Master’ for the time being.

Image courtesy of Bernard de Grunne.
Image courtesy of Bernard de Grunne.

This artist carved only nine works: two stools, four bowstands and three statues. In his catalogue note Bernard de Grunne has listed them in a detailed chronological sequence based on their first date of collection and careful archival research:

  1. Statuette, M.R.A.C., Tervuren inv. N° 26633, collected by Rusmont between 1902 and 1903,7 (above, far right).
  2. Janus statuette, Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde, inv. N° III C 1996, purchased by Leo Frobenius from Hamburg dealer J.M.G. Umlauff and sold to the Berlin Museum in 1904,8 (above, one from right).
  3. Bowstand, American Private Collection, New York, collected by Léon Guébels a.k.a. Olivier de Bouveignes between 1913-1918, Willy Mestach, Merton Simpson,9 (above, centre left).
  4. Stool, Seattle Art Museum, Inv. N° 81.17.876, collected by Lieutenant Roger Castiau, a Belgian pilot based at M’Toa (just north of Kalemie) between April 1st and July 23 1916,10 (Fig. 6 below).
  5. Stool, University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Inv. N° AF5121, purchased from French dealer Charles Vignier in Paris in 1919,11 (Fig. 7 below).
  6. Bowstand, from the André Lefèvre and René Mendès-France collection, acquired prior to May 1931, (the present lot, above, one from left).
  7. Bowstand, Frankfurt Museum des Weltkulturen, inv. N° NS.33.8.34, formerly A. Siffert Collection, Gent, acquired prior to 1937,12 (Fig. 5 below).
  8. Bowstand, Malcolm Collection, collected in situ by Pierre Wustfeld in 1956, (above, centre right).
  9. Statuette, former Comte B. de Grunne Collection, sold by Pierre Dartevelle, 1975, noted as coming from Kiambi (above, far left).

Warua master stools main des maitres Bernard de Grunne


ps it is interesting to find this bowstand being offered by Christie’s. Only last year, it was exhibited by Entwistle at TEFAF Maastricht (info). Note that the excellent sleuthing of Bernard de Grunne in the current catalogue note shows that this object never belonged to Georges de Miré. The erroneous de Miré provenance was added in the entry of the Sotheby’s catalogue in 1980 and has been repeated ever since. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that de Miré did indeed consign some Oceanic objects from his collection to this 6 May 1931 auction (which included this bowstand). However, Georges de Miré’s African collection was sold six months later on 16 December 1931. At the May sale, the bowstand was consigned by another well-known collector, André Léfèvre.

Image courtesy of Christie's.
Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Exhibtions News

“Uzuri Wa Dunia”, the movie

A short video documenting the installation, presentation and opening reception of Uzuri Wa Dunia – with as soundtrack a song especially written for the occasion. Open until Sunday!

Exhibtions News

Exhibition tip: “Giant Masks from the Congo” (Brussels, May-September 2015)

Giant Masks from the Congo Suku kakungu Belvue Bruno Claessens

If you are in Brussels for BRUNEAF, don’t forget to visit “Giant Masks from the Congo” (info). It’s only a 3 minute walk from the Sablon (Place des Palais 7), and highly recommended (& free!). It’s an exhibition only the Tervuren museum could accomplish – showing for example half of the existing Suku kakungu masks: very impressive to say the least ! A small catalogue, written by Julien Volper, is available in Dutch, French and English.

Giant Masks from the Congo Yaka Suku masks Bruno Claessens Brussels

Giant masks from the Congo Yaka Suku figures Mbala Pende

Exhibtions News

Exhibition tip: “Uzuri Wa Dunia” ( Beauty of the World) – 5 days only in Brussels

Kela figure Mestach Uzuri Wa Dunia

I just returned home from the opening of this exhibition and I’m still processing what I got to see. A tribute to the Belgian collector, this show is an incredible tour-de-force of the Bruneaf team, presenting masterpiece after masterpiece. This once in a lifetime opportunity unfortunately lasts only five days (while the installation of the exhibition took double as long!) – so don’t sleep and do come to Brussels. The 100 (mostly African) objects are on view from Wednesday June 10 until Sunday June 14th at the Ancienne Nonciature, Rue des Sablons 7 (daily from 10AM to 7PM) and is accompanied by a catalogue. The several Fang, Kongo and Songye figures alone are already worth the visit. Apart from the objects in private Belgian collections, there’s also a handful of objects from the Sindika Dokolo Foundation (this year’s guest of honor). Bruneaf definitely celebrated its 25th birthday in a proper way with this exhibition – it’s a shame it will only be on view for five days.

Kaka paternity Uzuri Wa Dunia Bruneaf
Jukun Nigeria Dartevelle Uzuri Wa Dunia Bruneaf

News Research

Inscriptions, labels and stickers on African art

Labels Teke figure MOMA Chauvet

Another service notice: I have redesigned the page on inscriptions, labels and stickers on African art – find it here. There’s now a custom-build structure that makes browsing them easier and more intuitive. If you select inscriptions, you can refine your selection more and more until you get to the group that matches your search – you can compare it with a tree with many branches, each inscription or label being a leaf. However, it’s still a young tree; this index is a work in progress and I will try to add new items on a weekly base. The bigger it gets, the higher it’s success rate of identifying ‘anonymous’ inscriptions, so please don’t hesitate to send pictures of numbers or labels you find on objects in your collection – especially when you know their origin. Thanks.

News Objects Research

African artists index

A quick service notice: I have created a special page on my website (here) grouping all my blog posts about African artists. ‘Masterhands’ unites my identifications of previously anonymous carvers, as well as posts about known sculptors and master sculptors or workshops established by other scholars. It is still a fairly short list, but in the long run I wish to create a substantial index of African artists on this page.

Note that Sotheby’s Paris will be selling a Teke figure by The Master of the wedge-shaped beard (who I identified in March) later this month; read all about it here. In French his pseudo-name translated into le Maître de la barbe cunéiforme.


Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Auctions News

Photo of the day: Ruby in Hong Kong

Image courtesy of Susan Kloman/Christie's.
Image courtesy of Susan Kloman/Christie’s.

The William Rubin Kota, I nicknamed her Ruby, was in China last week – more specifically in Hong Kong. The preview was also accompanied by a lecture on the connection between the art from the Kota and Western Modern Art. Reaching to new audiences in the east, Christie’s clearly is doing an effort. The first two weeks of May, Ruby had already been on view at the Christie’s headquarters in New York. As you can see below, she was presented next to a painting by Mark Rothko from 1958: a pairing that worked very well. According to some it was the Kota that made the Rothko better, and not the other way around.

Image courtesy of Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn.
Image courtesy of Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn.

A nice surprise when walking to Christie’s was the fact that there were a lot of banners featuring Ruby on Fifth Avenue. See one below near Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I loved seeing African art invade the public space, especially at such a busy spot in Manhattan. Kudos to Christie’s African art department for all the promotion.

William Rubin Kota New York Gabon Bruno Claessens

As one of the icons of African art, Ruby not surprisingly got her own 80-page catalogue; you can browse it here. It includes essays by Susan Kloman, Pierre Amrouche, Charles-Wesley Hourdé, Louis Perrois, Frederic Cloth and William Rubin himself. You can also view a short documentary about the Kota’s last owner, William Rubin, on the website of Christie’s here.

The next and final stop of Ruby is Paris, where she will be on view from 18 until 23 June 2015 (info). Ruby will be sold that last day, with an estimate of € 6-9 million – I have a feeling she might break the world record for most expensive African art object ever sold at auction…