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Minneapolis benin head

Minneapolis Benin headMIA PURCHASES CONTROVERSIAL MASTERPIECE OF AFRICAN SCULPTURE

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By David Norden, May 10, 2007, updated September 23, 2007

Bronze Head
Photo: Dan Dennehy, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
11 1/2 x 8 11/16 x 8 5/16 in. (29.21 x 22.07 x 21.11 cm)
The John R. Van Derlip Trust Fund, 2007.13

A discussion in the African Antiques group English made me look for more information's about a recent acquisition of the Minneapolis institute of Arts.

It is a strange thing with some recent USA Museum acquisitions. Officially they say that they only buy Benin Bronzes with traceable provenances anterior to 1972, but is this really so ? 

The Minneapolis Museum just bought A Benin Bronze head H:12-inch from the French dealer Alain de Monbrison. 

This piece was on show on his stand at the last Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris, everyone will agree it is a fine Benin piece with clear signs of aging.

When I asked the price it was one million two hundred thousand euros (2,200,000 €). I also asked him about the provenance but it could not be provided since there are more pieces coming out from the same source.

I tracked the provenance, it was sold at auction at Sotheby's London in March 1981, and the given provenance was "a German private collector", there is no previous history known. (mail me if you have more information's)

This head has also very close similarities with the one described as XVIII-th Benin Edo head 37.5 (cm)  at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., USA that is published in Robbins and Nooter, African Art in American collections, Washington, 1989 page 215, fig.553 .

076432005X African Art in American Collections
Author: Warren M. Robbins, Nancy Ingram Noot...; Buy New: $60.76

benin head sothebysThe Edo Bronze Benin Head sold at Sotheby's had a much clearer provenance:

Benin head at sothebysBenin head from the auction at Sotheby's in New York on May 17, 2007 lot 121, SALE N08320 estimated between $1 million and $1.5 million Benin sold for 4,744,000 € and was bought by a team of collecotrs and investors who teamd up together (mail me if you havve more informations )

Provenance: Reportedly collected and owned by a member of the British Punitive Expedition, 1897-1932
Louis Carré, Paris (accession no. '1114'), acquired from the above in London with the participation of Charles Ratton on March 20, 1932
Acquired by the Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, from the above through Knoedler & Co. Galleries, New York, on December 31, 1935 (accession no. '35:18')


David Norden

The official Minneapolis benin head press release: 

MIA PURCHASES MASTERPIECE OF AFRICAN SCULPTURE

Minneapolis, May 7, 2007—The Board of Trustees of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has approved the purchase of a rare bronze sculpture from the Kingdom of Benin, a pre-colonial civilization once located in what is now southern Nigeria.

The sculpture is a bronze memorial head made at the height of the Benin culture, between the mid-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries. 

Iconic works of this kind are among the masterpieces of the arts of Africa. Now on view in the MIA’s recently expanded galleries, the memorial head is displayed among the museum’s small but significant Benin holdings, which include a seventeenth-century bronze water vessel in the shape of a leopard, an eighteenth-century carved memorial tusk, and an early nineteenth-century warrior figure recently donated to the MIA.


“This memorial head from the Kingdom of Benin is a magnificent object, representing one of the world’s major artistic traditions,” said William M. Griswold, Director and President of the MIA. “The acquisition of this masterpiece of African art demonstrates our ongoing commitment to strengthening our holdings in this and, indeed, every collection area with objects of the greatest quality and significance.”

Purchased from a European dealer, the memorial head is a major addition to the MIA’s collection of African art.

Joe D. Horse Capture, acting curator of African, Oceanic, and Native American Art at the Arts MIA

2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404++ Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
001 (612) 870-3286

audio found at minnesota public radio

 

 The sculpture stands nearly twelve inches high and dates between 1550 and 1650, the so-called “middle period” of Benin art, which many consider the high point of Benin artistic production. The Benin culture is known for creating superb bronze sculptures to honor its Obas (or kings). In this case, the Oba is shown wearing a hat and a multi-strand coral-bead necklace, with another coral bead on his forehead. Brought across the Sahara from the Mediterranean Sea, coral was the sole property of the king and symbolized his power through his control of international trade. Memorial heads such as this were meant to capture the essence of the Oba’s power, and were placed on shrines with other important objects. A hole in the top of the head would have held a carved elephant tusk chronicling the activities of the honored Oba.

Few Benin bronze heads remain in private hands, but a number of early (1400–1550) and middle period examples are held in other public collections in this country and abroad. Comparable middle period examples can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Museum in London, and the Museum für Völkerkunde in Vienna.

“This is a great addition to our collection,” said Joe D. Horse Capture, acting curator of African, Oceanic, and Native American Art at the MIA. “This head is equal in stature to the greatest masterpieces of our collection of African, Oceanic, and Native American art, and will allow us to better tell the important story of Benin art and culture for our visitors.”

The MIA has more than 1,630 objects from Africa. Other African highlights include a terracotta shrine head from the royal city of Ife, a pre-colonial culture of present-day Nigeria, made between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries; a wooden equestrian figure made between the tenth and thirteenth centuries by an artist from the Djenne culture, once located in present-day Mali; and a terracotta seated figure from the Nok culture, a civilization that existed in present-day northern Nigeria from approximately 500 b.c. to 500 a.d.

About the Minneapolis Institute of Arts The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), home to one of the finest encyclopedic art collections in the country, houses nearly 100,000 works of art representing more than 5,000 years of world history. Highlights of the permanent collection include European masterworks by Rembrandt, Poussin, and van Gogh; modern and contemporary painting and sculpture by Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Stella, and Close; as well as internationally significant collections of prints and drawings, decorative arts, Modernist design, photographs, and Asian, African, and Native American art. General admission is always free. Some special exhibitions have a nominal admission fee. Museum hours: Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Monday closed. For more information, call (612) 870-3131 or visit www.artsmia.org.
 

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