FANG-MVAI MALE RELIQUARY FIGURE, NTEM RIVER REGION, GABON
- Height: 15 1/4 inches
Collection "P.H." (possibly Paul Haviland, Paris and New York)
Paul Guillaume, Paris (inv. no. "581")
Domenica (Julliette) Guillaume ("Madame Paul Guillaume"), Paris, by descent from the above in 1934
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, acquired from the above on April 30, 1941 (stock book no. "1083")
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For a closely related Fang-Mvai Reliquary Figure of similar size, previously also in the collection of Paul Guillaume and today in the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, cf. Neyt (2010: 90); also published in Perrois (1972: 302).
Fang statuary has always been one of the most admired and sought-after genres of African art. From the first decades of the 20th century, members of the avant-garde art movement around Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque pursued the work of the Fang with its highly stylized cubist forms. Paul Guillaume (1891-1934), art dealer, collector and one of the leading cultural players in Paris, was a passionate and extremely active member of this group. He was instrumental in promoting African art on both sides of the Atlantic, in post-WWI Paris as well as and in the United States. In 1914 he collaborated with Alfred Stieglitz , the American photographer and impresario of the arts in New York, on the organization of Statuary in Wood from African Savages: The Roots of Modern Art at Stieglitz's New York gallery "291" and launched the first exhibition of African art in the United States. His work with Albert Barnes and the Barnes Foundation since 1922 as adviser for acquisitions in modern paintings and African art, and the 1926 publication of Primitive Negro Sculpture which he co-authored with Thomas Munro were other milestones in his career.
As Ezio Bassani elucidated in his contribution to William Rubin's "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art (Bassani in Rubin 1984: 405-414), Guillaume had particularly strong bonds with the Italian avant-garde artists. Beginning in 1914 he represented Amedeo Modigliani, himself an avid admirer of African art, whom he subsequently introduced to Romanian-born Constantine Brancusi. Guillaume's extensive collection of African artworks is known in detail from his photo archive which is safeguarded until present-day in the Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris. The collection was of extraordinary quality and many of the objects formerly owned by Paul Guillaume today can be found in the world's leading private and institutional collections.
While Guillaume was working with Stieglitz on the 1914 exhibition at gallery "291," he met with another collaborator to the show: Paul Haviland (1880-1950), probably the most influential early 20th century American photographer. Paul had met Stieglitz around 1907 and became one of his primary co-workers in staging the first American exhibitions of French artists, such as Rodin and Matisse, at gallery "291." Together with his younger Paris-based brother Frank (1886-1971), whose important collection of African art built the core group of the objects published in Carl Einstein's Negerplastik (1915), Paul had built an early collection of African art the composition of which, however, is for the most part unknown. The present lot is permanently mounted an what might be called a typical "artist's base" made from two carved and sanded wooden blocks and finished with paint rather than shellac. The base is inscribed on the bottom with the initials "P.H." In light of Guillaume's friendship with Paul Haviland this could suggest the latter as the original owner.