Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 12. Fang-Ntumu Reliquary Guardian Figure, Gabon.

Property from a Private Collection

Fang-Ntumu Reliquary Guardian Figure, Gabon

Lot Closed

May 21, 04:15 PM GMT


250,000 - 350,000 USD

Lot Details


Property from a Private Collection

Fang-Ntumu Reliquary Guardian Figure, Gabon

Height: 18 in (45.7 cm)

On a base by the Japanese wood artist Kichizô Inagaki (1876-1951), Paris

Charles Ratton, Paris, acquired by the 1930s or earlier

Louis Carré, Paris, acquired from the above by the 1930s

Olivier Le Corneur, Paris, acquired from the above before 1940

Thence by descent from the above

Loudmer, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, December 5, 1992, lot 83

Philippe Guimiot, Brussels

German Private Collection, acquired from the above in the 1990s

Sotheby's, New York, consigned by the above

Private Collection, acquired from the above in a private sale

Xavier Gilles, “Collectionneurs de Reve”, L’Œil, No. 227, June, 1974, p. 11

A 19th Century Fang-Ntumu Male Reliquary Figure, Northern Gabon

Louis Perrois

This éyéma-o-byéri figure of a male ancestor, at 45.5 cm high, is a characteristic work of the style of the Fang-Ntumu people of northern Gabon; indeed, this specimen can be called a “classic” of the art of that group.

The subject, in a semi-seated position, rests on an integrally-carved posterior stem, and unfolds in three sections: the elongated cylindrical trunk, extending from the neck in a nearly equal diameter; the mass of the thighs and the powerfully curved calves; and the head, with rounded forehead, capped with a crested coiffure (nlo-o-ngo). The arms are held closely to the trunk at right angles – seeming to hang, shifted forward from the axis of the figure – with stylized hands that hold an offering cup at the plexus. Note the engraved designs on the biceps and wrists carved with bracelets. The trunk widens near the navel, with a protruding peg-form umbilicus, decorated with a metal plaquette. The sex is indicated, but without ostentation.


The head is perched on the powerful neck, a sign of the ancestor’s strength, with a face of stylized form: the forehead, a perfect quarter-sphere, extends from a heart-shaped face, adorned with a small nose and a large, forward-pursed mouth which becomes one with the chin, in a classic Fang “pout”. The eyes, carved in low relief from the mass of the wood, are almond-shaped and squinted, offering an enigmatic gaze. A linear engraved decoration of three stripes descends continuously from the forehead to the nose. This type of body decoration was still favored by the Fang-Ntumu at the beginning of the twentieth century, as the drawings of Günter Tessmann (1913) attest. The ears, with detached cups, are semi-circular; from the left one hangs a pendant of three metal rings supporting a fragment of glazed blue and white faience, with lattice decoration, probably of English origin (its presence perhaps a result of the slave trade which developed on the coast of Gabon and at the mouth of the Ogooué River in the early 19th century, notably by the British company Hatton and Cookson of Liverpool). This ornament, rarely observed on byéri figures, is a symbol of wealth and social prestige.


The coiffure, in a helmet-shaped cap encircling the top of the skull, is adorned with a central crest in low relief, falling in a nape-covering row at the back of the neck. Also notable is the headband that outlines the rounded forehead, and the parallel curves of the coiffure in flattened braids, which are arranged echoing the rounded shape of the ears. The crest is pierced laterally with a channel for the attachment of a tuft of Eagle or Turaco feathers (aseng).


On the reverse of the figure, the scooped trough indicating the spine descends into the mass of the buttocks and thighs, and the stem for attachment is offset. This detail indicates that the sculptor had to adapt the sculpture to the constraints of the wood to preserve the strength of the figure.


The light-colored, high-density wood (perhaps otzikezam or esiseng, commonly utilized by the Fang of northern Gabon) is covered with a thick patina from use, which is in places shiny and crusty.


This magnificent specimen of the sculpture of the Fang-Ntumu, with its prestigious inter-war pedigree (having belonged to Charles Ratton, Louis Carré, and Olivier Le Corneur), dates back to the 19th century.