Lot 10
  • 10

Baule Monkey Statue (Gbekre), Ivory Coast

120,000 - 180,000 USD
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  • wood, pigment
  • Height: 19 1/4 in (48.9 cm)


Armand Arman, New York
Merton D. Simpson, New York, acquired from the above (presumably inv. no. "3601")
Allan Stone, New York, acquired from the above in June 1981


No author, "Rendezvous at Sotheby's", Tribal Arts Magazine, Vol. XVIII:2, No. 71, Spring 2014, p. 34

Catalogue Note

Statues of standing monkeys were used in many different Baule cults, the most prominent of which was Mbra. According to Vogel (1997: 224) a "man, woman, or child may be possessed by either of two kinds of powers: bush spirits, called asye usu, of which great numbers wander about in nature [...]; and Mbra, an ancient amuin (in other words a god), given to the Baule by the Creator, which can remain attached to certain families over generations. Both supernatural powers send their human partners into trance states [...] and there are similar beliefs about both. At least one substantial figure sculpture (usually more) should be created as an abode for the spirit or god, and this and the figure's numerous accessories make asye usu and Mbra cults the focus of much Baule art. [...] Only certain families have Mbra, having acquired it in past generations, and it lacks the close connection with the bush that asye usu have. Fewer persons are contacted by Mbra than by the multitude of bush spirits [...]."

Artists commissioned with the creation of sculptures used in the Mbra cult had to follow closely the instructions of the diviners who might have been told certain details about the figure's required physical appearance, posture, etc. by Mbra itself, often during a trance state or a dream. Vogel (1997: 238) notes: "Monkey figures share stylistic features with the men's sacred masks, and have some of the same qualities of secrecy and danger to women. They combine human and animal traits in such a way that it is nearly impossible to separate them, and they have the prominent teeth and boxy muzzle[... They] also receive sacrificial offerings directly on the wood sculpture, and are associated with the bush. Mbra monkey figures, for example are kept in the village, but 'fed' with sacrifices in the bush."

Depicting a cup-bearing anthropomorphized simian figure, the statue from the Allan Stone Collection is one of the great masterpieces of this genre. With its highly cubistic features it closely relates to the famous monkey statue previously in the collection of René Gaffé, Paris (sold at Christie’s, in association with Artus Associés, chambre Calmels Cohen, Paris, Collection René Gaffe, December 8, 2001, Lot 25; subsequently sold privately through Sotheby's, New York), identifying it as a work by the same artist and his workshop. The cup held between the hands was a receptacle for offerings such as eggs. The thick crusty sacrificial patina attests to long ritual use in situ.