This past June the Metropolitan was successful in acquiring a new work for its permanent collection at the sale of the Pierre and Claude Verité collection that was held in Paris at Hôtel Drouot. [Previously blogged here and here; find a copy of the sales catalog here.]
While the much anticipated and promoted sale marked some record prices for works of African art, most notably a celebrated Fang mask, the museum elected to pursue filling an area of its collection that was especially well represented in the Verité collection, that of Kuyu sculpture from the Republic of the Congo. Three of the most important examples of this tradition that is distinctive for its emphasis on polychromy and the juxtaposition of two-dimensional abstract design on full-bodied figurative representations were among the highlights of the sale. These were collected in the field during the 1930s by the colonial governor of French Equatorial Africa, Aristide Courtois. Courtois was a major supplier of sculpture from the region to the most important dealers of African art in Paris during the first half of the 20th century including Charles Ratton.
The Metropolitan acquired the most monumental of these, a standing male figure with three faces, that is especially appealing for its engaging views from multiple perspectives and the bold abstract designs emblazoned across the torso. The work will be placed on view in the Benenson Gallery of African art in the coming month. -- Alisa LaGamma
For more on the life of Aristide Courtois, see Pierre Amrouche, "Aristide Courtois (1883-1962), The Bungalow Burner," Arts & cultures 2006, p. 180-189. (RGL call no. A A7849 2006)
A black-and-white illustration of this piece appears in Eliot Elisofon and William Fagg, The Sculpture of Africa (1958; reprinted 1978), p. 163. (Q O3 E47 and Q O3 E47 1978)
For another example of 'Janus faced' Kuyu sculpture, see For Spirits and Kings: African Art from the Paul and Ruth Tishman Collection, edited by Susan Vogel (1981), p. 196-198 (O2 N545f REF)