The African and Oceanic Art collection of Paul Rupalley was exhibited at the Exposition de l'Art Indigène des Colonies Françaises
, held at the Pavillion de Marsan in Paris in 1923; the collection was then sold in Paris in March of 1930.
The Rupalley nkisi
statuette bears a fine, multi-layered patina attesting to its great age and a long period of use before the time of its collection. According to Thompson (in
Dapper 2002: 97), the seated posture with legs crossed, called funda nkata
, signifies high distinction in Kongo culture. Reserved for representations of chiefs and maternity groups, it is rarely seen in nkisi
sculpture. The spherical element held to the mouth is quite rare in Kongo iconography; it is seen in a Vili power figure representing a monkey, formerly in the collection of Bela Hein (see
Fraysse et Associés, Ancienne collection B.H.
, Paris, June 6, 2005, lot 52). In the present lot, which features eyes inlaid with glass and ample magical charges in both the abdomen and the head, the action of bringing the sphere to the mouth can be interpreted as an act of consumption, feeding the charges and increasing the figure’s power. The Rupalley nkisi
stands out in the corpus of Kongo power statuettes for its fluid lines and elegant overall design.
Another Kongo nkisi statuette of this rare type, with hands raised to a sphere held in the mouth, was in the personal collection of Henri Matisse. It is the subject of his painting Still Life with African Sculpture of 1906-1907 (see left; also published in Rubin 1984: 214).