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Commemorative Head

Unidentified Edo artist
Kingdom of Benin, c.1000–1897
15th–18th century
Bronze, iron
Associated with
Benin City, Edo state, Western Africa and the Guinea Coast, Nigeria, Africa
Metalwork, sculpture
Current Location
On View, Gallery 102
7 11/16 x 7 1/8 x 6 7/8 in. (19.5 x 18.1 x 17.5 cm)
Credit Line
Museum Purchase
Public Domain
Object Number
In 1936, this sculpture was the first example of sub-Saharan African art to enter the Saint Louis Art Museum’s collection. This work’s high degree of naturalism and fine casting captivated Museum leaders and visitors at a time when few American art museums collected art from sub-Saharan Africa. This bronze had previously been shown in a landmark traveling exhibition of African art organized by the Museum of Modern Art in 1935. Bronze heads, such as this example, were placed on palace shrines to honor a Benin king’s royal predecessor and ancestors. Heads in this style, with minimal headdress, have also been interpreted as “trophy heads,” said to represent the head of an important defeated enemy to commemorate the victory.
by 1932 -
Charles Ratton, Paris, France [1]

by 1934 - 1936
Louis Carré (1879-1977), Paris, France [2]

1936 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, purchased from Louis Carré through agent M. Knoedler & Co., Inc. [3]

[1] An image of this object is included in an article titled "Les bronzes du Bénin" by Charles Ratton in a 1932 issue of Cahiers d'Art (no. 3-5). The object is cited as belonging to the collection of Charles Ratton.

[2] In a letter dated November 23, 1934 from Louis Carré to the City Art Museum, Carré states his Benin collection of bronzes is the “finest collection ever known.” Carré mentioned his plans to have an exhibition in the US and “dispose of certain pieces.” Carré's collection was exhibited at M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., from November 25 to December 14, 1935 ["Bronzes and Ivories from the Old Kingdom of Benin: Exhibition from November 25 to December 14, 1935 : At the Galleries of M. Knoedler and Company ... New York City" [SLAM document files]; see also "Carré Shows Benin Bronzes and Ivories at Knoedler's" in The Art News dated November 30, 1935 [SLAM document files]. Letters between Meyric Rogers, director of the City Art Museum, and Charles Henschel of M. Knoedler & Co. Inc. dated March 6, March 9, March 12, and April 3, 1936, identify Louis Carré's ownership of the object [SLAM document files].

[3] In a letter dated March 6, 1936 from Rogers to Henschel, Rogers asks Henschel to contact Carré regarding this object. A letter dated March 12, 1936 from H. Jansen of M. Knoedler & Co., Inc. to Rogers contains a cable sent to M. Knoedler & Co. from Carré confirming a reduction in price. Additional correspondence between Rogers and Henschel document the role of M. Knoedler & Co. as agent in the purchase. An invoice dated April 6, 1936 from M. Knoedler & Co., Inc. to the City Art Museum documents the purchase of this object, listed as "Benin Bronze...Portrait of a Youth" [SLAM document files]. Minutes of the Administrative Board of Control of the City Art Museum, March 5, 1936.
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