Art d'Afrique et d'Océanie

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Lot n° 7 - Guro heddle Pulley, Côte d'Ivoire
H. 6.6 in - W. 3.3 in

Provenance:
- Collection privée française
Private collections have always had plenty of surprises in store, with more gems that could ever be imagined.
Experts thought they knew all about the work of the Guro sculptor known in African art history as the Master of Bouafle, but a new star has now been added to his outstanding list of works. A few touches are enough for us to attribute this original object, a weaving-loom bobbin, to the artist: the long, half-closed cat's eyes, the line followed by the wide forehead, interrupting the perfect curve at the impish nose, and the elegant pointed hairstyle with a level of sophistication that is the hallmark of the ethnic group from central Ivory Coast. The great collector, Eduard Von den Heydt, was very fond of the Ivorian master's highly sensitive skill. He donated his legendary masks to the Rietberg Museum in Zurich for the greater enjoyment of visitors. A few years ago, an inspired and wealthy art-lover paid homage to our artist by spending a record amount on a work that had long been on display in André Breton's living room. The
Barbier-Mueller Museum, meanwhile, used a delightful pulley as its emblem, and one can easily imagine that its soulmate is shown here. Although he used the same golden ratio, the sculptor has assigned a gender to each of the two figures. First, the strong and compact facial features would be a sure enough sign of virility, even if the elegantly trimmed beard were not there to remove any doubt. Second, you notice the characteristically stately bearing given to the body of the figure carrying the jug on the top of her head, while the long, slender neck plainly highlights her femininity.
Despite its apparent fragility, this vital tool for weavers, shown here, was robust enough to play its role, if we are to believe the patina that has been rubbed away by repeated handling, the marks due to the thread rubbing against the fastening at the top of the pulley and the deep trace that a slight lack of balance has caused in the bottom of the stirrup. The simple and practical shape of the stirrup was inspired by objects made by the neighbouring Senufo or Baoulé people, and confirms that it was used at the top of the heddle. Unlike some similar objects with extravagant architecture defying all practicality, this small pulley meets all the criteria set out by the art historian and theoretician Frank Willett: "made by
Africans, for Africans and used as such"... And it is beautiful into the bargain.
Bertrand Goy

Guro heddle Pulley, Côte d'Ivoire H. 6.6 in W. 3.3 in Provenance: Collection privée française Private collections have always had plenty of surprises in store, with more gems that …

Lot n° 14 - Bakongo nkissi nkondi power figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
H. 16.7 in

Provenance:
- Collection Jacques Hautelet, Louvain, San Diego
- Collection privée américaine

An effigy with a magical-religious function standing with its toes firmly embedded in the ground. The abdomen has been carved out so the reliquary items (bilongo) could be placed there, hidden behind a circular mirror. The arms are supple, with the left arm placed against the hip and the right with the elbow projecting outwards, suggesting the type of weapon it might have held. The realistic face is coated with a blackish resin, attracting our attention and seeming to speak to us. The glass eyes, with their prominent pupils, are set either side of a slender nose, while the half-open mouth has lined, realistic lips. The tall headdress is surrounded by a strip of simple material, bristling with porcupine quills. Around the neck, waist and ankle are locally made fabrics.
The work can be compared to the Kakongo series studied by Marc Léo Felix: although the Kakongo borrowed basic elements from the world of the Kongo, their sculpture is more focused on objects linked to the clan than to objects of prestige such as the emblems of chiefs or other notable individuals. They made objects filled with special powers, including a wide range of statuettes that were "activated" by symbolic ingredients and by ritual handling from a specialist. In particular, statuettes were covered with various additions to the right raised arm, with the hand including a space for a weapon, which was used to protect the village. (In. Marc Leo Felix, Art et Kongos - Les peuples Kongophones et leur sculpture Biteki bia Bakongo, vol 1: Les Kongo du Nord, Zaire Basin Art History Research Center, Brussels, 1995, page 95)

Bakongo nkissi nkondi power figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo H. 16.7 in Provenance: Collection Jacques Hautelet, Louvain, San Diego Collection privée américaine An effigy w…

Lot n° 17 - Dan/We mask, Côte d'Ivoire
H. 10 in - W. 5.9 in

Provenance:
- Collecté par Emil Storrer, Zürich
- Collection privée

Publication:
- Eberhard Fisher et Himmelheber Hans, Die Kunst der Dan, Rietberg Museum, Zürich, 1976, p. 99, n°71
- Eberhard Fisher et Himmelheber Hans, The Arts of the Dan in West Africa, Rietberg Museum, Zürich, 1984, p. 63, n°67

Emil Storrer (1917-1989), a great traveller and collector, criss-crossed western Africa and especially Ivory Coast in the early 1950s.
In Korhogo, he befriended the car mechanic Simon Escarré, himself a great collector and hunter, as well as Father Convers in the Senufo region. Storrer supplied important pieces to the Rietberg Museum, the Barbier-Mueller Museum and to major private collectors. This dance mask with its striking features is dominated by the strong forehead with brows looming over the questioning, tubular eyes on either side of a strong nose with wide wings. The extremely prominent mouth is open to reveal two daunting rows of blunted teeth. The iron set in the middle of the forehead adds to the mask's power. The mask is encircled by many round and rectangular holes used to tie the mask to the wearer's costume. Behind the mask, with the inscription ‘125
Guéré-Dan' written in white ink, traces of adzes can be clearly seen.
There is a very attractive black-brown gloss patina on a hard wood. The mask expresses the proud and threatening male spirit in Poro ceremonies. For boys and villagers, the mask and its wearer inspired fear and respect, while women were not allowed anywhere near the mask during periods of ritual reclusion. This is one of the most beautiful examples of masks of this kind.

Dan/We mask, Côte d'Ivoire H. 10 in W. 5.9 in Provenance: Collecté par Emil Storrer, Zürich Collection privée Publication: Eberhard Fisher et Himmelheber Hans, Die Kunst der Dan, R…

Lot n° 18 - Grebo Mask (Liberia) collected by Mario Meneghini
Grebo mask, Liberia
Wood and pigments
H. 44.8 cm - L. 25.4 cm - D. 12.7 cm

Provenance:
- Mario Meneghini, Italie, collecté au Liberia en 1968
- Sotheby's New York, 19 mai 2000, lot 226
- Collection privée

Exhibition:
- Le Grande Scultura dell'Africa Nera, Forte di Belvedere, Florence, 15 juillet - 29 Octobre 1989
- Le Grand Héritage - Sculptures de l'Afrique Noire, Musée Dapper, Paris, 25 mai - 15 septembre 1992
- Miniature Masks from West Africa: Lorenzelli Arte, Milan, octobre - décembre 1997
- Africa - Capolavori da un Continente, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Turin, 2 octobre 2003 - 15 février 2004

Bibliographie:
- Mario Meneghini, The Grebo Mask, African Arts, 1974, p. 37, fig. 3
- Ezio Bassani, La Grande Scultura Dell'Africa Nera, Florence, 1989, p. 239, fig. 46.
- Ezio Bassani, Le Grand Héritage: Sculptures de l'Afrique Noire, Paris: Musée Dapper, 1992, p. 150
- Karl Ferdinand Schaedler, Afrikanische Kunst: Stilformen u.Kultgegen-stände von mehr als 100 Stämmen, Munich: Heyne, 1997, p. 52, fig. 24
- Aldo Tagliaferri, Miniature Masks from West Africa, Milan, 1997, p. 52
- Ezio Bassani, Africa: Capolavori da un Continente, Florence: Artificio Skira, 2003, p. 190, planche 3.24
Grebo masks - such as this work of magnificent simplicity, precision and dynamism
- were among the first to reach the West. Their astounding shapes enthralled artists, and Picasso in particular, who was inspired by them to create his famous "Guitar" in 1912, the first Cubist sculpture. This can be very clearly seen in this masterpiece: unlike the other African masks known in the early 20th century, this is not a representation of an animal or an individual, but a panel in two parts: a rounded and strangely lengthened forehead (since it was used to display a tall feather headdress) and, under the cavity containing the eye area, a face that is flat, but where the organs of sight, speech and breathing are evoked by three kinds of protuberances. Three geometric signs symbolising the human face. A rectangle, a triangle and a circle: a parallelepiped for the mouth, a small pyramid-shaped piece for the bridge of the nose and two cylinders for the eyes. Overturning the principles of realism, cavities and openings are turned into protuberances. Even more: these projecting parts have no orifices: there are no nostrils; the mouth cavity is represented by a tiny slit; the eyes are sealed, with circles painted in a very light ochre colour on the flat edges of the cylinders representing the deliberately enlarged pupils. Nonetheless, in the middle of the forehead, two circular cavities in the same colour and a similar size introduce a double formal echo, with an art skilled in counterpoint helping to deepen, on this watchful mask, the idea of vigilance, intensifying the inquisitory eyes, but in a purely symbolic way. And as if to increase their number even more, to animate and enliven the surface, beiges marks have been added to the darker background.
This exceptional mask, so remarkable for a shape that is both broad and dense, with its highly discreet colouring, is clearly very old. Several signs go to prove this: the successive layers of pigment that have come away in places, after long years of use, and have been covered by others; a crusted patina and, on the back, against the face of the mask-wearer, clear signs of rubbing, sweat and use; signs of termite activity (originally, the mask was kept outside the village, in the sacred clearing); the holes made near the tubular eyes are quite rustic in style (the holes on the back of the mask show this even more clearly), because they were made not to attract the viewer, but for a single reason: so that the wearer could see where he was going, and contrasting with the highly regular orifices seen in so many other similar masks.
We can even see the intact lateral groove used to attach the costume and ornaments and, around the edge of the forehead, all the holes made to fix the headdress.
This mask was collected by a chemist from Milan, Mario Meneghini (1926-2008). It was reproduced (fig. 3) in an article he published in African Arts (vol. 8, N°1, 1974, pp. 36-39), "The Grebo Mask". But it was bought by him in 1968, after being in use for several decades. Meneghini moved to Liberia in 1957 to join his brother, who was already managing a company in the country; he lived there with his family for 23 years, until 1980 (when the civil war began), collecting masks and statues intensively, from 1963, in Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast.
The mask was used by the Grebo people in a number of ceremonies, and particularly funerals, but also to spur on warriors during wartime, as well as to welcome them on their return and, by watching over the participants, ensuring order was maintained (Cf. Alain-Michel Boyer: "Grebo Art/L'art des Grebo", Arts&Cultures, 2010, pp.134-151). But masks such as this one also fascinated Picasso and collectors so much because it is, artistically speaking, a rarity among the works produced by this people. It was an exception, contrary to what is often believed: during ceremonies, it was used along with other figurative face masks decorated with animal horns.
Alain-Michel BOYER

Grebo Mask (Liberia) collected by Mario Meneghini Grebo mask, Liberia Wood and pigments H. 44.8 cm L. 25.4 cm D. 12.7 cm Provenance: Mario Meneghini, Italie, collecté au Liberia en…

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