A Masterpiece of Central African Art
Encountering a major Songye sculpture is a breathtaking experience: direct spiritual forces, harnessed from magical substances, are balanced with delicate sculptural refinement, conveying both ferocious power and meditative wisdom. Standing nearly one meter high, the Songye Power Figure from the Goldsmith Collection is one of the finest works in this celebrated corpus, and is particularly remarkable for its exceptionally refined sculptural quality, excellent state of preservation, and grand scale.
The Los Angeles couple Bram and Elaine Goldsmith were part of a generation of American art collectors whose discovery of African sculpture opened a new chapter in the story of classical Africa’s widening cultural influence. Along their adventure as art collectors the Goldsmiths’ met the African Art scholar Irwin Hersey, who made introductions to dealers in the field and guided them as they complimented their impressive collection of Western Fine art with fine early works by traditional African artists. They soon became good clients of leading dealers in America and Europe including John J. Klejman, Pierre Dartevelle, Al Abrams, and Herbert Baker. The resulting combination was a particularly American blend: works by Sam Francis, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Kees Van Dongen, and Fernand Leger were set off by Luba, Songye, Bamileke, and Baule sculptures in their stunning Beverly Hills home. This bold style of collecting was ahead of its time, nurtured by the Goldsmiths’ reverence for creativity, curiosity about the unfamiliar, and eye for beauty.
Bram Goldsmith was known as the “banker to the stars”. Elaine was an artist herself, and found an affinity with the directness, formal strength, and great beauty of African sculpture, as many artists did throughout the 20th century. During the years that they were collecting, primarily in the 1970s, they were able to acquire sculptures of a caliber which are rarely available on the market today, including the jewel of their collection, the monumental and exquisite Songye Community Power Figure which they acquired from Pierre Dartevelle in 1975.
Ancient Central American goldsmiths created pendants of mythological animals based on the masters of the rainforest including raptors and reptiles in this selection. Made by the lost-wax casting method in meticulous detail, these brilliant ornaments are lively and expressive elite accoutrements.
The ceramic sculptures of ancient Mexico honored the important community figures as well as the fauna and floral essential to their daily life. A major selection of sculptures presented here are from the Andy and Deborah Williams collection, acquired from his friend John Huston and displayed together for years in their Palm Springs home. Important figures from other private collections include the proud seated Colima drinker with Trophy- heads, and the Colima bottle with Crayfish, formerly in the collection of Jay C. Leff.