Fang style comparisons
Below are images of various Fang heads and Byeri figures.  

My intention is to show different styles within the same tribe. A lot of the original documentation I put together for this
page I have already deleted so this page has been recreated below.
Sotheby's - Property from the William B. Loeb Trust

New York   Session 1
17 May 02 10:15 AM

Estimate: 175,000—230,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   
449,500 USD

height 9 1/8in. (23.2cm.)

nlo byéri, rising from a strong neck beneath the large spherical, naturistically carved head, with flat jaw beneath raised pursed lips
and a broad nose pierced through at the septum and framed by small close-set eyes with pupils defined by insets beneath the
expansive forehead, and wearing an elaborate striated coiffure with transverse chignon at each side, and a panel decorated with
alternating triangular motifs below, pierced through at the crown for the attachment of ornament; exceptionally fine encrusted black
patina with resinous areas on the face and areas of encrusted red-brown on the reverse.

Acquired by Mrs. P. A. Levine, circa 1940 in Paris
William B. Loeb
By descent through the family

Einstein, Negerplastik, 1915, plate 62
Coady (ed.), The Soil: A Magazine of Art, July 1917, cover

One of only five Fang heads, and the only one from the Betsi style, published by Einstein in 1915, this head holds an extremely
important position in the development of African art history. It was with the publication of Negerplastik that African art became
understood as art, corresponding with the birth of cubism. The book was financed by Joseph Brummer, the first dealer in Paris to
show African art as art, the objects in Negerplastik have become, over the years icons in the field of African art.

This naturalistic head is a classical example of the rare Betsi style of Fang sculpture from the southern Fang area. The head is
one of only three others known of this style: one formerly in the collections of Charles Ratton, James Johnson-Sweeney and
William McCarty-Cooper (Laburthe-Tolra and Falgayrettes-Leveau 1991:121), a second in the collection formerly in the collection
of Les Orphélins d'Auteuil, Paris (ibid.:120) and a third formerly in the collection of H.H. Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (ibid.:123).
Property from a German Collection


Estimate 150,000—250,000 USD
New York  15 Nov 02 10:15 AM

Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:  
 169,000 USD

height 12in. 30.5cm
Descazeaux Collection, Paris, 1950's

Meauzé 1968: 113

According to Perrois (personal communication), this exceptionally rare Fang head represents the head of an ancestor which
was used in the Ngan dance society in Northern Gabon or North-eastern Rio Muni by the Fang-Ntumu and the Fang-Fang.

Unlike the more well known Fang reliquary guardian heads which often have a black and resinous patina, this head resembles
more closely the Fang ngil masks in both form, surface and structure. See for example Perrois (1979: figure 98 and 99) to
compare both the surface patina and the manner of abstraction throughout the face. See also (ibid.: figure 104) for another
type of Ngil mask in the collection of the Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva. The hollowed rectangular section at the back of the
neck on the offered head would have been for the attachment to a support stick.

The Ngan dance is an ancient dance of the Fang-Ntumu which is highly important to the moral structure of public village life,
and most importantly to the education of young people. The head is a marionette, representing deceased ancestors of the
past, and in dance is accompanied by sung stories. Both the rhythmic dance and the songs which accompany the appearance
of the head relate proverbs which are an important part of the formation of social structure. The music which accompanies this
dance is very rhythmic with both drums and xylophones.

Mr. Descazeaux, a French collector, began collecting African and Pre-Columbian art in the 1950's. For a nearly identical
ancestor head with similar abstraction and patina, see the Museo de Etnologica de Barcelona, collected on the Panyella-
Sabater expedition (Orstrom and Instituto de Estudios Africanos, Madrid 1959: 67).
Property from the Frum Collection
Sotheby's 1996 LOT 114
A Superb Fang Reliquary Guardian Head, nlo bieri, a flaring shaft supporting the thick cylindrical neck, the oversized spherical
head with concave heart-shaped facial plane, the naturally worn oval mouth beneath a similarly worn nose flanked by inset
serrated copper or brass eyes affixed with iron nails beneath incised arched brows and a smooth domed forehead incised with a
row of dots emanating from the coiffure on the right, and wearing a diminutive pendant beard, the coiffure composed of five thick
raised ekuma braids, the two on the right longer, and hollowed at two points on the crown for insertion; fine smooth resinous
black patina. Height 15 3/4 in. (40 cm.)

Acquired from Paul Guillaume, Ernest Ascher, or
Charles Ration, Paris
Helena Rubinstein, Paris
Parke-Bernet   Galleries,   The Helena Rubinstein   Collection,
African and Oceanic Art, Parts One and Two, April 21, 1966, lot 207.
Alice M. Kaplan, New York
Sotheby's New York, November 20, 1990, lot 117.

New York, The Museum of Modern Art, African Negro Art, March 18-May 19, 1935, no. 272. Paris, Musee Dapper, Fang,
November 1991-April 1992.

Walker Evans, African Negro Art, Photographic Portfolio,
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1935, nos. 323 and 324, illustrated.
Bantel, The Alice M. Kaplan Collection, Jamestown, 1980:72-73. Robbins and Nooter, African Art in American Collections,
Washington, B.C. 1989:854.
Falgayrettes-Eeveau and Eaburthe-Tolra, Fang. Paris, 1991:106.

Fang sculpture has always been amongst the most admired and sought after genres of African art. From the first few decades of
this century the earliest collectors actively sought Fang sculpture with its naturalistic compact form. Indeed, one of the best
known African collectors of this century, and the first collector to have this magnificent head in her private collection —Helena
Rubinstein—had a total of thirteen Fang reliquary guardian heads and figures in her collection in 1966 (Parke-Bernet, The
Helena Rubinstein Collection; African and Oceanic Art, Parts One and Two, April 1966). This male head stands out as one of the
most superb examples of her Fangs. Early records of Fang reliquary sculpture by Tessman (1913) and others suggest that the
reliquary guardian heads were rarer than the full scale figures in Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Cameroons. An examination
of public auctions over the last fifty years, shows that a much smaller number of heads seem to have found their way to the
market. Fernandez in his examination of Fang aesthetic style (1973:205), comments that both the heads and the full reliquary
guardian figures were carved for the same purpose. Each sculpture was carved in abstract form to function as an intermediary
with the ancestors.

Dr. Leon Siroto, who has written much on aspects of Fang art and culture, has examined this wonderful head and suggests the
following. "The general style of this head seems to agree significantly with that of another  acquired  in   1903   by  the  
Neuchatel  Ethnographic  Museum, Switzerland (see Eaburthe-Tolra and Falgayrettes-Leveau, 1991:8-9).
The [Neuchatel] head was collected in Gabon by R.P. Trilles. One of the first intensive students of the Fang, Father Trilles
traveled about considerably in Gabon, and his apparent failure to record the exact location in which he collected the Neuchatel
head leaves us with a wide geographic area in which to seek its place of origin.

Perrois has suggested that all such heads came from the region of the town of Mitzic in the Upper Okano River Basin of
northwestern Gabon. In my opinion, this geographical area is too limited. Tessmann (1913:118; fig. 2) shows a drawing of a head
of similar form seen in Nnoayong Village in the territory of the Okas and Esabok clans, presumably on the little Binfille River, then
called Spanish Guinea. This location is relatively far from both Mitzic and the Upper Okano. Ritual accessories traveled far with
them dur¬ing the latter half of the 19th century.

The head under consideration shows erosion of the nose and mouth. This disfigurement is thought to be the work of rats
chewing at the salient points in order to ingest the palm oil with which these heads were treated. The offered head, to western
eyes, is one of the few unequivocally male Fang guardian heads. Its gender is indicated by the trace of a chin beard, denoting
power and virility."

While scholars are still unable to determine the specific geographic origin of this head, the importance of this Fang male reliquary
guardian head is evident both in its historic provenance and moreover, in its visual impact or its extraordinary size and elegance.

Estimate $800,000-1,200,000
Reliquary Head (Nlo Bieri), 19th–20th century
Fang peoples; Gabon
Wood, metal, oil; H. 18 5/16 in. (46.5 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.229)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Also pictured directly below in a group of photographs I took of the Fang objects in the Met in May 2005

Estimate 60,000—90,000 USD
New York  14 Nov 03 10:15 AM

Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   
42,000 USD

measurements note
height 23 5/8 in. 60cm

standing on fragmentary feet supporting muscular calves beneath pointed knees and powerful angular thighs, the long narrow
torso punctuated by a raised navel beneath narrow sloping shoulders, the foreshortened arms bent at the elbow and fragmentary
at the forearm, the broad, thick neck supporting the head with square chin, pursed straight mouth, triangular nose and round metal
disc eyes under the arching brows and bulbous forehead, and wearing an intricate coiffure of four multifaceted backswept lobes;
exceptionally fine layered and varied blackened patina.

This figure, carved in rich detail, with distinctive carinated legs and 'longitudinal' proportions is a classic example of Fang reliquary
guardian figures within the oeuvre of the Ntumu in northern Gabon. Compare this figure with the proportions of the body and
delicate treatment of the head with that in Perrois (1972: 74, plate 10, number 48) formerly in the Schwob collection.

Estimate 200,000—250,000 USD  Session 1
New York  14 Nov 03 10:15 AM

Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   
187,200 USD

height. 60,5 cm

measurements note
height 23 1/4 in. 59cm

Estimate 40,000—60,000 USD  Session 1
New York  14 May 04 10:15 AM

Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   
108,000 USD

measurements note
height 22in. 55.9cm

standing on wedge-shaped feet with notched toes, the muscular legs encircled by carved rings at the top, beneath the rounded
hips with a shaft at the reverse, the elongated torso with protruding navel, high conical breasts and faceted back decorated with
an incised repeating diamond motif, the thick neck supporting the head with a delicate heart-shaped facial plane and large
domed forehead, and wearing a backswept tripartite coiffure, old labels at the reverse 'COLLECTIONS DURVILLE 127' and '95';
encrusted, aged and varied patina with kaolin overall.

Doctor Gaston Durville, Paris

Gaston Durville began collecting African art in Paris in the 1930's. He was known as an expert on the 'pahouin' as Fang works of
art were more widely referred to at that time. He also gave lectures on their art at the Richter Gallery on the Faubourg St. Honoré
in 1933.

While kaolin-surfaced or so-called 'white' Fang figures are rare, their concentration is not limited to one specific region in
Cameroon or Gabon. For related kaolin-covered works see Rietberg Museum (see Leuzinger, 1970: 239, number Q7) for a
Fang, Bieri head; and Leuzinger (1978: 161, figure 109) for a Fang figure, both from Mvai, Northern Gabon/Cameroon; the
Brooklyn Museum (ibid: 235, figure Q3) for a Fang, Bieri, figure; the Musée de l'Homme (Perrois 1972:264) for a Fang, Nzaman,
figure; the Museum für Völkerkunde Lübeck (see Dapper 1991: 59) for a Fang, Ngumba, figure and another from a private
collection (Robbins and Nooter, 1989: 328 figure 850).

Referring to the Fang masks, nlo ngon ntan (head of the young white girl), which are covered in kaolin, Perrois states that among
the Fang white is the color of the spirits of the dead. '...In the sense that Fang tradition says that the deceased are reincarnated
in the land of the Whites, the Whites would therefore be the ancestors who have returned to visit the living' (1985: 149). The oral
tradition relaying a proverbial creation of a byéri containing ancestral relics also emphasizes the participation of the 'ghost world'
and incorporates a white person (an albino) and a young beautiful girl as necessary for its creation (Perrois 1991: 45-48). While
it is rare to see 'white' female guardian figures for a reliquary, byéri, this female figure's role as a liminal figure situated between
life and death is further emphasized by the white surface and is in keeping with Fang beliefs and traditions.
Property from a European Collector

Estimate 30,000—40,000 USD  Session 1
New York  15 May 03 10:15 AM

Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   
66,000 USD

height 15 1/4in. 38.7cm

in a seated posture with wedge-shaped feet and angular legs and buttocks beneath the slender torso with prominent navel and
pendant breasts framed by broad sloping shoulders pulled back and elongated muscular arms, the diminutive head with large open
oval mouth baring teeth beneath inset brass tacks for the eyes, and wearing a multipartite backswept coiffure pierced through for
the attachment of ornament, areas of ritual abrasion on the front of the torso and face; varied encrusted black-brown patina overall.

Roger Budin, Geneva
Picard, Paris, October 6, 1991, lot 255
Loed Van Bussel, Amsterdam

Cf. Perrois (1972:figure 45) for a closely relate Fang female figure from the Okak zone in Rio Muni. See also Perrois (1979:figure
78) for a closely related figure, formerly in the Neufeld Collection, Los Angeles. All three show extremely muscular elongated arms
and button-like inset brass tacks for the eyes beneath a sweeping brow.

As Perrois (ibid.) has written, it is difficult to define a true Okak style due to their location on the fringe of Fang territory, and their
contact with other Fang tribes. However most of the Okak Fang figures whose collection location is known to come from Rio Muni or
the surrounding area.
Property from the Collection of George and Verna Lazarnick

Sotheby's May 2002 - Lot 257
A rare and important Fang male reliquary guardian figure

standing, and supplanted by a thick cylindrical shaft, with wedge-shaped feet beneath muscular bent legs, rounded hips and the
torso in barrel form with distinct cylindrical navel, the back with deeply grooved spinal column decorated with a column of incised
scarification and framed by a similar column to either side, all beneath broad shoulders leading to muscular arms, the right reaching
up to support the chin and the left grasping the right forearm, the broad spherical head with concave facial plane and protruding slit
mouth showing sculpted teeth beneath the nose framed by inset wood and copper eyes, and framed by semicircular protruding
ears, and wearing a tripartite backswept coiffure with repeating chevron motif, the torso with a repeating arched incised scarification
on the front and vertical panels with a repeating zigzag motif on the reverse, areas of abrasion on the calves, buttocks, knees and
feet; exceptionally fine black patina with large resinous areas, Inagaki base.
height with shaft 20 5/8 in. (52.4cm.)

Estimate $400,000-600,000

Georges de Mire, Paris
Probably John Graham, New York
Frank Crowninshield, New York
Parke Bernet, 'The Frank Crowninshield Collection of Modern French Art', New York, October 20 and 21, 1943, number 131
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Arthur Mones, New York
Merton Simpson, New York

Graham, Exhibition of Sculptures of Old African Civilizations, 1936:no. 49
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, African Negro Art: The Collection of Frank Crowninshield, 1937:no.88
Robbins and Nooter, African Art in American Collections, 1989: 333, figure 862
de Grunne, 'Fang Statuary: A Classical Art Form?' in Tribal Arts, June 1994, issue 2:53

New York, Jacques Seligman Gallery, Exhibition of Sculptures of Old African Civilizations, January 4-January 22, 1936 Brooklyn,
The Brooklyn Museum, African Negro Art: The Collection of Frank Crowninshield, May 1937
This unusual Fang male figure, with the left arm grasping the right has an illustrious history. The De Mire Collection was one of the
most famous early collections of African art in France. De Mire was a business man who collected works of the highest quality. He
was forced to sell his collection in the 1930s as a result of some financial problems.

It was the artist John Graham who was primarily responsible for the range and quality of Frank Crowninshield's collection of African
art. Graham purchased many of the works in Paris, and indeed the content of the collection expressed a strong emphasis on work
from the French colonies. By the time of the Seligman Gallery exhibition, the Crowninshield collection had nine Fang figures. In
keeping with his idea of naming individual African works in order to emphasize their uniqueness and their masterpiece quality,
Graham wrote the following about the offered lot, 'Child figure, Pahouin, holding its cheek. Unusual example as to posture and
pose...' (Clarke 1995:36) and in his notes for the Brooklyn show he called the figure 'The Weeping child'.
The gesture of the hand holding the cheek is very rare in Fang sculpture. A survey at the Van Rijn Documentation Center reveals
only two others in this pose while Perrois (1979:293) publishes only one other. However, the hand of the master carver who created
this exceptional work has been documented in Perrois (1979:fig 113), a seated figure with nearly identical treatment of the
musculature, the inset eyes, and the backswept coiffure incised with repeating chevron motif.
Sotheby's - New York
African & Oceanic Art
Auction Date : Nov 14, 2003


rising from a thick cylindrical base, the figure seated on rounded hips with muscular arms wrapped around the front and
interlocked hands resting on the right knee beneath pendant breasts and shelf-like shoulers, the head with prognathous jaw,
protruding lips and a triangular nose bisecting high cheekbones and rounded eyes, the high forehead leading to a backswept
and plaited tripartite coiffure, 'no 173, Haut de poteau d'ancêtre, statue de femme Fang avec la coiffe de fête, collection Charles
Ratton' on an old label at the reverse, 'Afrique Equatorial Française, Gabon' on a label at the front of the base and 'Ce beau
fétiche Fang est la première oeuvre Fang reproduite, Elle figure dans de livre de Du Chaillu sur le Gabon' on a label at the back
of the base; fine slightly glossy and worn dark brown patina; offered with the original publication: Le Marquis de Compiègne, E.
Plon et Cie, L'Afrique Equatoriale, Volume I, Okanda (1875) and L'Afrique Equatoriale, Volume II, Gabonais, Pahouins-Gallois

height 11 1/2 in. 29cm

Estimate:$ 50,000 - $ 70,000  
Price Realized:$ 131,200    


Collected by Alfred Marché and Victor Dupont, Le Marquis de Compiègne, on a naval expedition ordered by Admiral DeLangle,

Gifted to E. Pilastre, a trader in Gabon for thirty years, who then brought the work to France

Orle Collection, France

Charles Ratton, Paris, number 173

Dr. Gaston Durville, Paris

Loudmer Paris, 29 June, 1989, lot 393

Le Marquis de Compiègne, E. Plon et Cie, L'Afrique Equatoriale, Volume I, Okanda 1875: frontispiece

Perrois 1992: 35 (reproduction of the above frontispiece)

This figure is the first Fang work of art known in the West. It was collected in the lower Ogooué region in 1873 during an
expedition by the naturalists Alfred Marché and Louis-Alphonse-Henri-Victor DuPont, Le Marquis de Compiègne. It was then
given to E. Pilastre, a tradesman in Gabon who assisted them on their journey. It was published in an engraving as the
frontispiece to L'Afrique Equatoriale (1875, volume II, Okanda, Bangouens, Osyeba) written by the Marquis de Compiègne,
recording his work in Gabon.

This interesting figure is rather atypical in form with respect to other, perhaps more well-known, Fang works of art. It is, however,
a completely authentic object, and, further, is historically important. Indeed, this small 'goddess pahouine'--as she was called at
the time--was collected by two of the first explorers, Marché and the Marquis de Compiègne, of the valley of Ogooué in 1873.
According to the reports of this expedition, the figure was found in the Fang Betsi region, around Lambarene. At this time, the
Fang groups were still coming to the interior region on their east-west migrations, which stopped in 1910.

At the base, there is a band of variation in the patina about four centimeters wide. This suggests that the figure could have been
surmounted on the lid of a reliquary, nsekh byeri. Indeed, these ancestor reliquaries were always decorated with either a head or
figure evoking a male or female ancestor. The size of these reliquaries varies, see Grébert (2003: 95, 134 and 225) for smaller
examples and Perrois (1992: 188-189) for examples of reliquaries of large scale.

Considering the small diameter of the base of this 'goddess pahouine', another hypothesis is that it served as the finial of a
decorated pillar, akon. Although very rare and not collected very often, due to their scale (measuring 280cm at times), these
works existed at Pangwe-Fang (see Krieger 1969: III C 33207) and probably among all the Fang groups--Beti in Ntumu, Okak of
Rio Muni and the Betsi of Ogooué--as architectural ornaments for the men's houses, abeny, where the village warriors met.

From a stylistic point of view, this figure, with its rounded features and asymmetrical posture, is unusual. The sculptor seems to
be freed from the traditional canons of Fang style. The roundness and ample volumetric quality of the work leans toward a certain
naturalism that is also seen in Betsi works of art. The top portion of the figure can be compared with the splendid eyema byeri
formerly in the collection of Paul Guillaume (Perrois 1979: 44, figure 19). The head, with its massive full face, prognathous jaw
with thick lips forming the 'Fang pout' and prominent closed eyes recalls the head from the collection of the Philadelphia Museum
of Art (Perrois 1992: 166-167). The coiffure with three large braids, ekuma, pendant at the nape of the neck, is very closely
related to the coiffure seen on the Fang head formerly in the Schwob collection (ibid.: 162-163). These detailed analyses
conclude that the small 'goddess pahouine' is more typical within the corpus of Fang works of art than it appears at first glance.

Dr. Louis Perrois, 4 September, 2003, St-Gely du Fesc
H: 35 cm (with tang: 40.4 cm)
Probably from the valleys of Ogooue and Okano (Gabon)
Southern Fang, Nzaman / Betsi tribe?
Probably 19th century
In the George Ortiz Collection
Lot 227 An important and rare Fang female reliquary guardian torso
height 111/2 in. (29.2cm.)
estimate $500,000-700,000
SOLD for $
1,542,500 USD

the torso pierced through transversely beneath the tapering torso with incised scarification in arching forms on the front and rows of repeating diamonds
on the reverse, the rounded shoulders hunched forward and leading to the curving arms held forward and framing the dramatic pendant conical breasts,
a finely carved notched spine on the back, beneath a flat round face decorated with three lines of raised scarification inset and radiating from the
downturned mouth, a similar single line across the domed forehead, with a raised nose and asymmetrical attached circular discs for the eyes, and
framed by raised pierced circles for the ears, wearing a wig-like coiffure descending from the crown with elegant long crosshatched tresses and a
smooth medial ridge; shiny black patina, Inagaki base.

Docteur Paul Chadourne, Paris
Morris Pinto, Paris

Sweeney, African Negro Art, 1935: figure 350
Radin and Sweeney, African Folklore and Sculpture, 1952: figure 72
Elisofon and Fagg, The Sculpture of Africa, 1958: 258
Perrois, La Statuaire Fang Gabon, 1972:369
Laburthe-Tolra and Falgayrettes-Leveau, Fang, 1991: 104-105
De Grunne, "Fang Statuary: A Classical Art Form", in The World of Tribal Arts, June 1994, issue 2, cover and page 51, figure 3
Phillips, Africa: the Art of a Continent, 1995:323, catalog 4.95

New York, African Negro Art, The Museum of Modern Art, 18 March-19 May, 1935
Paris, Fang, Musee Dapper, 21 November 1991-15 April 1992
London, Africa: The Art of a Continent, The Royal Academy of Arts, 5 October 1995-28 January 1996
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 5 June-29 September 1996

This extraordinary female torso was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1935 in the first comprehensive exhibition on African Art in the
United States. This seminal exhibition included more than 600 pieces from across the continent of Africa. All the pieces were photographed by Walker
Evans, although a much smaller number, including this figure, are pictured in the catalogue. This figure was only one of a number of works lent to the
exhibition by Dr. Paul Chadourne, a trench collector of African and Oceanic works of art whose objects were exhibited as early as 1930 at the Galerie
Pigalle, Paris.

Based on interviews with Fang people around the turn of the century Tessman (1913) wrote that Fang heads and torsos generally were earlier in
carving date than the full figures, and they were thus subsequently much more rare.

This expressive torso most closely resembles the famous Epstein figure, formerly in the Monzino collection (Vogel 1986: figure 99), and both are highly
unusual within the corpus of Fang art. Tessman (ibid.) attributed the row of scarification marks, found on both figures, across the forehead to the Rio
Muni Fang. In the case of these sculptures, the row on the forehead as well as the three rows on the chin are inset. This can also be compared with a
large head of a closely related style, formerly in the Helena Rubinstein collection (Laburthe-Tolra and Falgayrettes-Leveau, 1991:106). The similar
scarification markings have been incised and reach across only half of the domed brow.

In addition, a number of formal qualities link this female torso and the Monzino male full standing figure, suggesting that they were more than likely
carved by the same hand. The proportions of the large disc eyes to the face, the treatment of the ears carved as a circular discs in front of the coiffure,
and the undercut coiffure carved as a single overall element show a strong cohesion of style. However, it is the plastic form of the body and the
expressive nature of the faces in both figures which make them unlike any other known Fang figures and elevate them to the highest level of sculptural
works of art.
228 A fine Fang reliquary guardian head
height I7 3/4 in. (45.1cm.)
estimate $150,000-250,000
SOLD for
$332,500 USD

rising from a tapering rectangular plinth showing thick adze marks, and supporting an oval neck with adzed undercut section at the back beneath the
large head with concave heart-shaped facial plane, flat chin with a slit incised mouth beneath the raised triangular nose framed by large circular
copper plates affixed to the surface beneath the domed brow decorated with a rectangular panel of incised geometric motif at the forehead, and
wearing a backswept coiffure with five raised transverse sections intersected by a single raised crest pierced twice for the attachment of numerous
ornaments; exceptionally fine encrusted patina over a blackened surface.

Merton D. Simpson, New York

Fang reliquary guardian heads are believed to pre-date the more widely known figurative sculptures (Tessman, 1913) Both were used as guardians to
protect the baskets containing the bones and skull of a venerated ancestor and both are highly abstract.

Stylistically, a number of features link this head with the great head, originally one of several superb heads, in the Helena Rubinstein collection
(Sotheby's New York, May 8, 1996, lot 114)—the heart-shaped facial plane, the concave inset copper circular discs for eyes the slightly asymmetrical
inset scarification markings on the brow and the fine rounded domed brow leading back into a raised and heavily abraded coiffure of numerous
transverse ridges. This close stylistic cohesion suggests they may have been carved in the same atelier. In addition to the great expressiveness
evident in this head, it shows extreme age, evident in the fine encrustation on the face and coiffure. The date of carving must therefore be placed well
back into the nineteenth century, if not earlier.
206 A rare and important Fang
male reliquary guardian figure
Estimate Upon Request
SOLD for  

of elongated attenuated form, and rising from a roughly adzed cylindrical shaft with remains of an old label on the reverse reading '...Paris', the
figure with splayed bent legs, wedge-shaped feet and pendant phallus beneath the extremely attenuated torso with flat strip incised with parallel rows
defining the back, and broadening at the waist, tapering again near the underarms beneath rounded shoulders and muscular cutaway arms, with
prominent cylindrical navel, all supporting the lengthy cylindrical neck and forward-protruding concave heart-shaped facial plane with flat chin, raised
triangular nose and a number of vertical striations at the eyes, framed by incised crescent ears, and wearing an elaborate tripartite backswept
coiffure pierced through for the attachment of ornaments; fine and varied dark brown patina with resinous areas; Inagaki base.

height 25 1/4 in. (64.1cm.)
John D. Graham, New York
Frank Crowninshield, New York
Julius Carlebach, New York
Jack Passer, New York

Graham, Exhibition of Sculptures of Old African Civilizations, 1936: page 5
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, African Negro Art: The Collection of Frank Crowninshield, 1937
Segy, African Sculpture Speaks, 1970: 217 and 280
Museum for African Art, The Language of African Art, 1970: number 341
Perrois, La Statuaire Fang du Gabon, 1972: 192 number 8
Robbins and Nooter, African Art in American Collection, 1989: figure 863

New York, Jacques Seligmann Gallery, Exhibition of Sculptures of Old African Civilizations, January 4-January 22, 1936
Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, African Negro Art: The Collection of Frank Crowninshield, May 1937
Washington, D. C, The Museum for African Art, The Language of African
Art, guest exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution, 24 May-7 September 1970

In her article, 'John Graham and the Crowninshield Collection of African Art', Clarke (1995) offers a pointed discussion of Graham as an African art
connoisseur, and artistic counsel to Crowninshield.

John Graham was a New York artist who began collecting African art in the 1920's. His interest in this collecting field was fostered by his burgeoning
relationships with members of the Parisian avant-garde.

He was acquainted with many dealers and advocates of African art, including Charles Ratton, Louis Carre, Felix Feneon, and Cahiers d'Art editor,
Christian Zevros. By the end of the 1920's Graham was a well-known connoisseur of African art, who developed his own criteria for collecting African
works of art.

This philosophy was published in his book, System and Dialectics of Art (1937). Fang reliquary figures were of particular interest to him, as they
captured the most elegant and 'classical' form of African sculptures.

In the late 1920's, Graham consulted Frank Crowninshield on the purchases for the latter's collection. A purveyor of taste in the years before World
War II, Crowninshield was the editor of Vanity Fair from 1914 to 1936 and one of the seven founders of the Museum for Modern Art in New York.
Works from his African art collection were prominently exhibited in important shows such as African Negro Art, organized by James Johnson Sweeney
in 1935.

By the late 1930's and early 1940's both Graham's and Crowninshield's collections were dispersed. Graham's collection was sold at Rains Gallery in
New York, 1937, and Crowninshield's in two Parke-Bernet sales in 1941 and 1943. Much of the rest of Crowninshield's African collection was
acquired by the artist Chaim Gross.

Even in Graham's early notes on his collection, it is clear that he held this figure in high esteem calling it the 'dancing pahouin' (Fang). Fewer than
five of these 'dancing' figures exist. The form—with its great attention to elongation and abstraction—is striking within the genre of Fang sculpture.
For another dancing Fang compare with the figure in The New Orleans Museum of Art, bequest of Victor Kiam.
Return to the Educational Resources page
CLICK HERE to see examples and information on Fang Byeri figures, including examples from the Monzino and Arman Collections

CLICK HERE to view photos and information from the article: Master Hands - Masterpieces of Fang Sculpture

CLICK HERE to read about the film by Susan Vogel called "Idol Becomes Art / Fang: An Epic Journey"
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