Lot 134
  • 134

Kanyok Couple by Kadyaat-Kalool, Democratic Republic of the Congo

200,000 - 300,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • wood
  • Height: 7 3/4 in (19.7 cm)


Private Belgian Collection, reportedly collected circa 1900 and by descent
Philippe Guimiot, Brussels, acquired from the above, possibly through Patrick Dierickx, Brussels
Daniel and Beatrice Gervis, Paris, acquired from the above
Sotheby's, New York, October 31, 1994, lot 77, consigned by the above
Myron Kunin, Minneapolis, acquired at the above auction


No author listed, “Auctions”, The World of Tribal Arts, Vol. 1, No. 4, Winter 1994, p. 90
Sotheby’s (adv.), in Sotheby's, New York, Pre-Columbian Art, November 15, 1994, p. 163


Very good condition for an object of this age and rare type. Minor marks, nicks, scratches, abrasions, and small chips consistent with age and handling. Proper right leg of the male figure broken and glued with some surface fill around the crack. Minor surface abrasions to the face of the male. Small pits in the wood including to back of the neck and proper left side of the male figure. Exceptionally fine aged dark brown patina with encrustation. Fixed to modern base with a pin embedded in the underside of the left foot of the male figure.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The Kunin couple is a work by the most famous Kanyok artist: Kadyaat-Kalool. For other figures by Kadyaat-Kalool or his atelier cf. one figure published in the 1915 monograph Negerplastik (Einstein 1915: pls. 48 and 49); a second in the Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva, which was acquired by Josef Müller before 1942 (Mattet 2000: pl. 25); a third formerly in the Stillman Collection (MPA 1966: pl. 126); a fourth formerly in the collection of Carel Van Lier (Van Lier 2003: 14); and a fifth, of the same iconography as the Kunin figure, in the Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp (formerly Etnografisch Museum; Ceyssens in Petridis 2001: cat. 85). Ceyssens (loc. cit.) identifies this iconography as kapele, a figural object owned by a diviner and notes: “The formal concept of this piece [...] alludes to the theme of the divination baskets full of tupele (sing. kapele), scores of miscellaneous objects whose constellation provides direction in divination [...]. The kapele of this couple is more specifically called mbate. Depending on how it lands after the divination basket has been shaken, the mbatediagnoses the marital state of affairs of the client or his love life in general.” The varied and layered surface of the Kunin couple confirms this suggested function in the divination context.

A sixth and seventh figure by the same artist, representing a crouching male and female couple, was previously in the collections of Ralph Nash, London, and William W. Brill, New York, and sold at Sotheby’s New York, The William W. Brill Collection of African Art, November 17, 2006, lot 119. In his discussion of this couple, Rik Ceyssens, eminent scholar of Kanyok art, identified Kadyaat-Kalool as the most prominent member of the famous Kanda-Kanda workshop, noting (Ceyssens in Sotheby’s, New York, November 17, 2006, pp. 128-130): “In 1902, the Tervuren Museum received the first Kanda-Kanda style artefact, a ‘chaise pliante sculptée par les natifs de Kanda-Kanda (tribu des Bena-Kanioka)’ sent by Alexandre Pimpurniaux, commissaire de district in Lusambo (accession number EO.0.0.16168) (D.E. 13). Works in the Kanda-Kanda style could pre-date 1902, but this date together with the 1896 Michaux expedition date and collecting information give a relatively strong argument for the beginning timeframe of the Kanda-Kanda style: it was not yet operational in 1896 and fully operational before 1902. […] I myself twice interviewed several dignitaries at the court of Kanda-Kanda when I learned of Kadyaat-Kalool(-aa-Bineen) (d. 1920), the Manindak and titular wood carver of the Kanda-Kanda chief Kabw-Mukalang(-aa-Seey) (1894/96 – 1941/42) (Ceyssens 1990: 16–17).

“Contrary to what may have been supposed based on the thematic choices and stylistic qualities of his work, Kadyaat was not a Chokwe migrant, neither a slave, nor a wandering trader. He was an ordinary indigenous Kanyok, installed as Manindak at a regional court, as a minor dignitary or technician, who never made it to one of the central Kanyok courts such as Mulund or Kaatshisung. He was able to develop his talents in combination with what were already multicultural surroundings in 1897 at Kanda-Kanda and its open market conditions. In addition, the open-mindedness of his first and formal employer, chief Kabw-Mukalang(aa-Seey) stimulated his work. […]

“Kadyaat indeed seems to be borrowing from the natural human interactions of his surroundings. […] the unisex coiffure is the Kanda-Kanda version of the traditional mafwifw hair style. The woman’s scarifications on the lower abdomen show that Kadyaat’s œuvre is still rooted in classic Kanyok art: I refer to the splendid caryatid stool collected by Michaux in 1896 (EO.0.0.23478) (Ceyssens in Petridis 2001: cat. 87). Could it be that the smirking open mouth is Kadyaat’s personal trademark? In fact, some would say, the grin somehow echoes the mouth of Songye sculpture. In my opinion, the wide-open mouth can be retraced more closely to southeastern Kete and even Salampasu influence. In Kadyaat, we see an artist who is working within the artistic canons of Kanyok art, and Central African art in general, but he has chosen to incorporate his own perspective and idiosyncrasies to create a unique artistic sensibility.”