Lot 2
  • 2

Bamileke Head, Bansoa Kingdom, Western Grassfields Region, Cameroon

40,000 - 60,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • stone
  • Height: 8 1/2 in (21.6 cm)


Reportedly from the treasury of King Foméné, Bansoa Kingdom
Thence by descent to his grandson, Tchinda
Reverend Frank Christol, acquired from the above before 1926
Henry Solomon Wellcome, London, presumably acquired from the above
Pierre Loeb, Paris, presumably acquired from the above
Helena Rubinstein, Paris and New York, acquired from the above before March 1935 
Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, African and Oceanic Art: the Collection of Helena Rubinstein, Part Two, April 29, 1966, lot 187
Jay C. Leff, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, acquired at the above auction
Alan Brandt, New York, presumably acquired from the above 
Hy Klebanow, New York, acquired from the above
Alan Brandt, New York, acquired from the above
Daniel and Marian Malcolm, Tenafly, New Jersey, acquired from the above on June 10, 1989


The Museum of Modern Art, New York, African Negro Art, March 18 - May 19, 1935
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Perfect Documents: Walker Evans and African Art, February 1 - September 3, 2000


James Johnson Sweeney (ed.), African Negro Art, New York, 1935, p. 44, cat. 317, pl. 317
Walker Evans, portfolio accompanying African Negro Art, New York, 1935, pl. 269
James Johnson Sweeney (ed.), African Negro Art (reprint), New York, 1968, p. 44, cat. 317, pl. 317
Pierre Harter, Arts anciens du Cameroun, Arnouville, 1986, p. 273 (referenced, not illustrated)
Judith Keller, Walker Evans: the Getty Museum Collection, Malibu, 1995, p. 122, fig. 400
Virginia-Lee Webb, Perfect Documents: Walker Evans and African Art, 1935, New York, 2000, pp. 74-75, pls. 28-29
Mason Klein, Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power, New York, 2014, p. 24
Heinrich Schweizer, Visions of Grace: 100 Masterpieces from the Collection of Daniel and Marian Malcolm, Milan, 2014, p. 131, cat. 49

Catalogue Note

As Schweizer (2014: 130) notes, "the Grassfields region of Cameroon is home to several ethnic groups, and dynamic cultural exchange between them makes the ethnic designation of artistic styles problematic. Scholars of Cameroon art have therefore advocated for a classification of [Grassfields] art based on their geographic rather than ethnic origins and identified three main stylistic regions: the Bamum Kingdom in the east, the North West Province in the center, and the Bamileke Region to the west."

The Reverend Frank Christol arrived in Cameroon in 1917, one of the first French Protestant missionaries to be sent by the Société des missions évangéliques de Paris immediately after the conquest of German Cameroon by the Allied forces. The photographs which Christol took in the Grassfields region during the 1920s provide important information on the art and culture of the Bamileke. Christol acquired a number of important objects in the Grassfields, including the offered head, which is one of a pair that he received from Tchinda, the fo (King) of the small kingdom of Bansoa, sometime prior to the destruction of Bansoa's royal palace  in 1926 (Harter 1986: 273). The second head is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. "1979.206.29"). Pierre Harter, who met Christol, records that the two heads were removed from "the extremities of an old slit drum" (loc. cit.). The cool dignity of the head suggests that it was made in the late 19th century when a naturalistic art flourished in Bansoa during the reign of Foméné, Tchinda's grandfather. A slit drum 139 ¾ inches in height (collected by Hans Glauning in Bansoa in 1908, now in the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin; see Homberger 2008: 197) illustrates the enormous scale of the drum from which this head was removed. When a ruler came to power during the 19th century two slit drums would be made. Just as the ruler would commission a ceremonial throne, not necessarily as a seat but as a symbol of royal power, so too the slit drum was an emblem of royal authority, and a fundamental source of a King’s mystical and transcendental power. As such, Notué notes that this was "why the instrument was only beaten as long as the King lived. After his death it was left to rot." (Notué, cited in Homberger loc. cit.).

From the Reverend Christol the heads passed into the encyclopedic collection of the remarkable Henry Wellcome in London. They were then in the possession of the great Parisian dealer Pierre Loeb, from whom they were acquired by Helena Rubinstein. The heads were amongst the twenty objects chosen from Rubinstein’s celebrated collection by James Johnson Sweeney for the legendary African Negro Art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1935, where they were photographed by Walker Evans. In a letter to Sweeney confirming his selection of pieces Rubinstein remarks that the offered head is made of "wood like that used in Egyptian heads. Unique piece." (The Museum of Modern Art Archives, NY, MoMA Exhs 39.8). Certainly the quiet nobility of this head seems to recall the benign and soothing countenance of an Old Kingdom sculpture such as the statue of the priest Kaaper in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.