Knowledge of indigenous languages​’, ‘has the interests of the natives at heart’, ‘does not always comply with the instructions given to him’, ‘transgresses guidelines’…these different assessments drawn from the colonial record of Raymond Hombert shed light today on the impressive collection of Lega art, he assembled during the period between 1924 and 1934 when he was responsible for administering the district of Kivu.

Before being officially dissolved by decree in 1948, the Bwami society had, from 1922 onwards, been subject to ‘real persecution, with many initiates exiled or imprisoned’ by the Belgian colonial authorities (Viviane Baecke in
In contrast with colonial directives, Raymond Hombert and his wife, the artist Martha Delhaye, known as Tom, adopted a benevolent attitude towards the Lega, and as a consequence they were able to obtain, often as gifts, a number of works which illustrate the great quality of old Lega art. Alexis Bonew kept for himself eleven objects from the Hombert collection (lots, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 27, and 33).

PF1448_hombert_1Tom Hombert, Alexis et Nicole Bonew, vernissage de l’exposition de Tom Hombert, mars 1970. Photographie G. Barbier

In the 1920s the Antwerp dealer Henri Pareyn was the first to ‘discover’ Lega ivories, which he sold to the great Parisian collectors and dealers such as Bela Hein, Tristan Tzara, Louis Carré, Charles Ratton, Paul Guillaume, and André Level (Bernard de Grunne in Felix, White Gold, Black Hands, Ivory Sculpture in Congo, vol. 6, pp. 166-167). Lega objects collected before the mid-1930s are very rare, and this group from Raymond and Tom Hombert is therefore as important historically as it is remarkable artistically.

Having fallen in love with the black muminia mask, and beguiled by the personality of Tom, Alexis Bonew organised a retrospective exhibition of her work as a painter and sculptor. A few weeks before the exhibition opened, on 24 February 1970 – Alexis’ thirtieth birthday – Tom relinquished this mask to him. He always believed it to be the pinnacle of his collection.

PF1448_hombert_2Le Commissaire de District M. Ledoet. le Prince Léopold et Raymond Hombert dans la région du Kivu, in L’Illustration Congolaise, n° 41 et 42, novembre 1925. DR