François Poncelet, Brussels
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, acquired from the above in 1922
Harvey Menist, Amsterdam, acquired from the above by exchange in 1969
Merton D. Simpson, New York, acquired from the above
John A. Friede, New York, acquired from the above
Michael Oliver, New York, acquired from the above in 1981
Robert Rubin, New York, acquired from the above on September 27, 1982
Brooklin Museum, Brooklyn, Primitive Negro Art, Chiefly from the Belgian Congo, April 11 - May 20, 1923
Museum for African Art, New York, Secrecy: African Art that Conceals and Reveals, February 13 - August 22, 1993; additional venues:
The Bermuda National Gallery, Hamilton, October - December, 1993
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, February - April, 1994
Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, May - September, 1994
The Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, January - March, 1995
Brooklin Institute of Arts and Sciences (ed.), Primitive Negro Art, Chiefly from the Belgian Congo, New York, 1923, p. 23
Stewart Culin, "Negro Art" in The Arts, vol. 3, New York, 1923, p. 346
Stewart Culin, "Negro Art" in Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, vol. X, No. 3, July 1923, p. 126
Cottie A. Burland and Werner Forman, Gods and Demons in Primitive Art, London/New York, 1973, no. 104 and p. 188
Mary H. Nooter, Secrecy : African Art that Conceals and Reveals, New York, 1993, p. 105, cat. 37
Regarding the function of Luba prestige staffs, Nooter-Roberts (1995: 356) explains: "Elegant staffs belong[ed] to rulers and certain dignitaries to affirm their power and position. They [were] hereditary objects passed down the royal line from a ruler to his successors [...]. Royal staffs were both prestige items and receptacles for sacred power. Sanctified by ritual specialists, fortified with metal and medicine, they took on supernatural qualities and were said to have healing power."
The magnificent Luba prestige staff from the Rubin Collection is distinguished by its majestic presence, sophisticated iconography, great age and early documented history. It was part of the famous group of Congolese artworks which the Brooklyn Museum purchased from François Poncelet in 1922. Siegmann (2009: 11-13) recalls: "It was not until the 1920s that a specific plan emerged to develop an African collection. The [Brooklyn] Museum came to assume a leading role in collecting and exhibiting African art primarily through the efforts of the Museum's first Curator of Ethnology, Stewart Culin (1858-1929). No curator has played a more influential role in building the Museum's African collection than Culin, and indeed, no curator has had a more profound impact on the entire history of the Brooklyn Museum. [...]
"Culin's most extensive purchases were made [in autumn of 1922] when he discovered a huge collection of art from the Belgium Congo owned by François Poncelet. Little is known about Poncelet other than the fact that he was the concierge at the veterinary school near Brussels. It is not clear whether he collected the items himself in the Congo or obtained them from colonial officials who had been stationed there. He does not seem to have been a recognized collector or dealer and may have seen the collection, most of which he stored in his coal cellar, primarily as ethnographic souvenirs. Culin [who had already made purchases on the Brooklyn Museum's behalf from leading dealers such as W.O. Oldman and Paul Guillaume] was astonished to find that he could obtain the entire collection of nearly fifteen hundred pieces for only twenty-five thousand Belgian francs, or roughly two thousand dollars. Although that was twice the amount that he had been authorized to spend on African art, he seized the opportunity [...].
"Upon his return to Brooklyn, Culin began to organize an exhibition to celebrate these acquisitions [...]. Culin's exhibition marked the first time that any museum [in the world] had devoted a full-scale exhibition to African objects as art, underscoring their value as aesthetic expressions. When the exhibition, titled Primitive Negro Art, Chiefly from the Belgian Congo, opened in April 1923, its significance was evident. With 1,454 works on view, it was, and remains, the largest exhibition of African art ever assembled."
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