Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier (d.1905) is the most celebrated ethnographic sculptor of the 19th century. The French artistic interest in the exotic and oriental races was first explored by the painters and authors, but was translated into a sophisticated balance of the scientific and the poetic by Cordier. He was fascinated by ethnographic accuracy and the nobility and elegance of foreign races. and, as such, was commissioned by the Paris Museum of Natural History to produce busts for an ethnographic gallery.
Cordier's first exhibit was his bust of Said Abdallah de la tribu du Darfour, shown in 1848. Three years later he modelled a negress from the African coast, the result being the celebrated present work, Vénus africaine, as it was christened by the art critic Théophile Gautier. The pair of busts were then shown together and were purchased by Queen Victoria on their inclusion in the 1851 Great Exhibition in London (now at Osborne House). Like the 1851 exhibits, the present cast of the Vénus shares the rich mixture of bronze and silver patination. As one of the earliest promotors of polychromy, Cordier was able to create a vivid image of the exotic, while simultaneously imbuing his subjects with a classical beauty, the very idealism which led Gautier to call the present model
A reduced, similarly-patinated cast of the Vénus africaine was sold in these rooms 25 September, 1991, lot 113. A pair of busts of Said Abdallah and Vénus Africaine, of the same dimensions as the present example, was sold in these rooms 24 September, 1987, lot 120.