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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

France restitutes African Art, part 2

Reginald Groux, founder of MAHICAO museum ( Musée d'art et d'histoire des cultures d'Afrique de l'Ouest) wrote:

However, in 1906, painters like Vlaminck and Derain exchanged letters where they testify to an emotional shock in front of these objects that they consider with an artist's eye. The Demoiselles d'Avignon, a painting painted by Picasso in 1907, reveals to the world a new plastic language directly inspired by African sculpture: Cubism. This major event will have a profound impact on all art of the twentieth century.

But it was not until the early 1920s that masks and statues from Africa began to agitate a tiny group of avant-gardists in France, painters, writers, poets, sculptors.

Meanwhile, in Africa, colonization is making its way:

- priests are converting,

- doctors and nurses are caring,

- school teachers are teaching,

-agriculture is developing.

Progress is infiltrating into the small villages of the bush, or the great forest and ancestral beliefs lose their power. The relationship with the cult of the ancestors deteriorates, the mask loses its authority, the medicines treat better than the witch doctor, the traditional values ​​regress gradually.

Families and villages getting rid of customary objects, masks, and statues. These items send back an image of a bygone past of which they have often been taught to be ashamed.

Thus, for example, in the 1940s, the Senufo Korhogo in Ivory Coast get rid of their statues in a sacred forest to convert to the cult of Massa. They will be recovered by a missionary, Father Convers, and will thus be saved from termites. I once had in my hands an important mirror fetish (today at the Dapper Foundation) that was offered by the chief of a Bakongo village to Dr. Eugène Jamot to thank him for overcoming the sleeping sickness that hit the people.

Colonial administrators, doctors such as Jammot, engineers like Robert Lehuard, all curious and cultured people, thus collected collections on-site before the Second World War.

They were interested in African Art, out of curiosity, love for art, by the spirit to preserve a culture, or respect for all that people produce of beauty.

In parallel, many objects were spontaneously handed over by new converts to the missionaries who sent them to the Mission Museum in Lyon, where some of them were sold.

Major cultural events are the beginning of an interest that continues to grow for African art, with a public that continues to expand. The first collections appear, among which Paul Guillaume in France, Dr. Barnes and Héléna Rubinstein across the Atlantic, Josef Müller in Solothurn, Switzerland. The early professional collectors, often big game hunters, enjoy safaris to collect in bush villages. Ethnologists are also involved, a market based on increasing demand creates an offer in proportion.

The 1931 International Colonial Exhibition in Paris generated strong demand and marked the beginning of mass-produced copies for the colony's white market.

From 1950 some skilled Senegalese or Malian merchants have already made a specialty of collecting and reselling art. Sow Gouro in Bamako, Mamadou Scylla turned millionaire, Diongassi Almamin who will sell the magnificent maternity Djennenke from the Périnet collection to name only the best known.

European merchants are crisscrossing West Africa in search of rare objects: Henri and Hélène Kamer, Jean-Michel Huguenin and Pierre Langlois, Georges Vidal, Emil Storrer or Frédéric-Henri Lem.

Complete article in La tribune de l'art , in French

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