Height: 8¼ in. (21 cm.)
Han Coray, Zurich (1880-1974). Inventory numbers: HC 479 and HC 196
At the very beginning of the 20th century, Han Coray was an influential and avant-garde African art collector. In 1917, he organized the first Dada exhibition in Zurich including a selection of African pieces. He built his first collection between 1916 and 1928. He then sold all the objects to the Völkerkundemuseum of Zurich's university and started a second collection. He was one of the first Swiss art collectors to consider African objects as works of art, rather than ethnography.
Paolo Morigi, Lugano
Hotel Drouot, 30 Juin - 1er Juillet 1927, lot 276 and illustrated on pl.XII Ernst Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland, before 1990
Paolo Morigi, Meisterwerke altafrikanischer Kultur aus der Sammlung Casa Coray, Agnuzzo: Casa Coray, 1968, fig.86
Sale room notice
Please note additional provenance: Hotel Drouot, 30 Juin - 1er Juillet 1927, lot 276 and illustrated on pl.XII

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Lot Essay

This cup was used to drink palm wine obtained from the raffia palm tree. This is the most popular beverage consumed in the Kuba kingdom. Because the first palm wine taken from the tree is considered the sweetest and thereafter becomes progressively stronger, the Kuba people compare it to their own society: sweet youth lacks wisdom, wise old age lacks sweetness of character (Torday, 1925).
The Kuba king had an entire collection of marvelously decorated cups although wasn't allowed to drink or eat in public. Cornet (Dapper, 1997) explains that these cups were reserved for the chiefs and notables and participated to the permanent competition for power and prestige. The artists used their skills to create spectacular drinking cups decorated with geometric designs, or taking the forms of drums, heads and sometimes human beings. The most desirable cups were always carved by the royal workshops. After the appearance of metallic, glass and plastic cups, the wooden cups were slowly abandoned.
Following a surrealistic composition, the Beyeler Kuba cup represents a human being with a highly stylized body. The sculptor used all his skills to emphasize the importance of the head, the impressive headdress and the feet, reducing the other parts of the body to a cylinder.
The creativity of the composition and the sculpture's quality indicate that the Beyeler cup was the regalia of a high-ranking Kuba nobleman.

Cf. De Meyere (1975, p.18) for a closely related cup from the Museum für Völkerkunde, Hamburg.

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