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André Breton, Paris
Etude Flagel-Portier, Paris, Art Primitif, 18-20 Mai 1927, lots 337 et 338
Félix Fénéon, Paris
Etude Bellier, Collection Fénéon. Afrique-Océanie-Amérique, 11-13 juin 1947, lot 77 (femme), lot 78 (homme)
John Huston, Los Angeles
Evelyn Keyes Huston, Santa Barbara
La provenance de ce lot est également André Breton, Paris, vers 1925, reproduit dans le catalogue de l'exposition André Breton-La beauté convulsive, Paris, Musée national d'art moderne/Centre Georges Pompidou, 25 avril-26 août 1991, p.54.
The provenance of this lot is also André Breton, Paris, ca.1925 and was reproduced in the catalogue of the exhibition André Breton-La beauté convulsive, Paris, Musée national d'art moderne/Centre, 25 avril-26 août 1991, p.54.
André Breton-La beauté convulsive, Paris, Musée national d'art moderne/Centre Georges Pompidou, 25 avril-26 août 1991, p.54
Post Lot Text
IMPORTANT PAIR OF BAULE FIGURES
This Baule couple, striking in their overall tall proportions and active gestures, captured the attention of two icons of modern culture-the art critic Félix Fénéon and the director John Huston. Presumably each collector acquired this pair from auctions in Paris-Fénéon in 1927 and Huston from the former's estate auction twenty years later in 1947.
Félix Fénéon was a literary and art critic who later became an art dealer and collector. He was most famous for coining the term 'Neo-Impressionism' to describe Georges Seurat's work, in particular, in 'Les Impressionistes' (in La Vogue, Paris, 1886), his review of the eighth and last Impressionist exhibition. From 1905 to 1925 he was the director of Galerie Bernheim-Jeune.
In this role, he continued his promotion of the Neo-Impressionists such as 'Henri-Edmond Cross and the Fauves (including Matisse). Always at the vanguard, he also arranged the first group exhibition of the Futurists in France (1912) and showed the work of the Synchromists (1913). The firm published monographs on its artists and also issued the periodical, Bulletin de la vie artistique.
It was in this publication that Fénéon posed the prescient question: 'Iront-ils au Louvre ? Enquête sur des arts lointains' (Will arts from remote places be admitted into the Louvre?, 1920 Bulletin de la vie artistique 1, Félix Fénéon (ed.) November 15 and December 1 and 15, 1920, pages 662-669, 693-703, 726-738). He called upon leading scholars and members of the artworld, such as Paul Guillaume and Kees Van dongen to answer this question. (His call to action was finally answered in 2000 when the 'arts premiers' were placed on view in the Pavillon des Sessions).
His collection of African and Oceanic art, which was held together with paintings by Matisse, Braque, Modigliani, Seurat and Bonnard, for example, was considered important during his lifetime. He has been credited with introducing African art to the poet Apollinaire and works from his collection were included in some of the earliest publications and exhibitions dedicated to promoting the 'arts premiers' as art rather than ethnography. This included the catalogue and exhibition in Paris (1923-24) organized by Clouzot and Level, the exhibition at Galerie Pigalle in Paris (1930), and he was a major lender to the landmark exhibition 'African Negro Art' at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1935).
John Huston (1906-1987) is the award-winning director of such films as The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The African Queen (1951), The Misfits (1960), The Man Who Would Be King (1975). Huston acquired this Baule pair shortly before he began shooting The African Queen (1951). In addtion to his collection of African art, he collected paintings and Pre-Columbian art. As a director, he was known for his skill of visual interpretation of the particular psychological nature of the novels on which his films are base. He was an accomplished painter who wrote in his autobiography, "Nothing has played a more important role in my life". As a young man he studied at the Smith School of Art, Los Angeles, and later at the Art Students League, New York. He had studios in each of his homes, and painted throughout his life. Not surprisingly, his interests ran parallel to Fnon in that he was particularly influenced by Cubism and the American school of Synchromism.
Chilvers, I., Fénéon, Félix. A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art, 1999, Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2009).
J-L Paudrat, in 'Primitivism' and 20th Century Art, Vol I, 1984, pp.139 and 147.
Hotel Drouot, Tableaux modernes, dessins, aquarelles, gouaches, pastels Collection Fénéon Paris, 
Clouzot (Henri) et Level (André), "Sculptures africaines et océeaniennes: Colonies Françcaises et Congo Belge", Paris, Librairie de France, 1924
Sweeney (James Johnson), African Negro Art, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1935, #243.
Paris, France: Exposition de L'Art indigène des Colonies françcaises et du Congo belge", Musée des Arts Décoratifs, November 1923-January 1924 (Organized by André Level), No.125
Paris, France: Exposition d'art africain et d'art océanien, Galerie Pigalle, 28 February-1 April 1930
Brussels, Belgium: Les Arts anciens de l'Afrique Noire, Palais des Beaux-Arts. Brussels, 1930. No.556.
New York, USA, African Negro Art, The Museum of Modern Art, 18 March-19 May 1935
We are grateful to Alain-Michel Boyer for offering his commentary on this Baule couple (October 2009)
These two statues are quite unusual, because of the bowls or cups they hold, which is unusual in Baoule art. The position of the bodies and, especially, the arms is also not typical. However, the scarifications are typically Baoule, as well as the facial style with pursed mouths and lifted chins. According to the scarifications and the general style, and also because of the bowls on their head (found more often in Senufo art), I would say they come, probably, from the northern part of Baoule country, from the Fari, or Mamela, or Satikran subgroups, who live in close contact with the Tagbana (who are very closely related to Senufo). It is rare to see a couple preserved as such, because over time and through various trades they were usually separated.
The height and overall large proportions of this Baoule couple, together with an expressionistic quality, make them without doubt representations of asie usu which belonged to an important trance diviner, komyen fwe, who needed several statues for divination and possession. The fact that they are a couple, like the famous Baoule couple in The Metropolitan Museum (1978.412.390,391 ), for instance, further indicates their function as asie usu made for a komyen fwe as opposed to being carved individually as spirit spouses, blolo bla/blolo bian. Moreover, the spirit spouse figures are never represented with such large proportions.
In old times, it seems (as I was told) that asie usu statues were much taller, between 70cm and 100cm, for instance. Most comparables one finds, however, are closer to 60cm or less, which can be a symptom of the decline of the cult.
One large-scale female asie usu, 77 cm high, is illustrated in the catalogue of the recent exhibition, at the Musée Louis Senlecq of L'Isle-Adam, L'Afrique en noir et blanc, du fleuve Niger au Golfe de Guine (1887-1892), Binger explorateur, (2009, p.84). Also published in this catalogue is a unique reproduction (p.85), I would say an extraordinary one, of an 1892 engraving from the book published by Binger, illustrating the ceremony of possession of the komyan. Here, one can see that the statue is nearly one meter high, since the head reaches the thighs of the dancer-diviner. In the engraving, the figure is seated like the asie usu statue of the Musée Africain of Aix Island, France, which is 62 cm high.