Two, framed together, 15” x 17”. The upper with a king flanked by his two queens, their hands joined in union. Festival masks flank them and behind, servants fan and hold an umbrella. The carving in the finest early Benin tradition. Below, a separate panel is carved with a man pulling a dehorned bull, to ritual slaughter. Very well carved, and clearly by a different artist. Both panels of similar wood, the bottom one slightly lighter in color. Internet information produces a very similar panel with near identical figures (said to have “fish head” form feet, though they match this example) and indicating that it was purchased in Wembley in 1924.

When Benin City was destroyed in 1897 by the British Punitive Expedition the quality of its art was immediately recognized and much of it removed, now resided in the British museum. That in an era when Pitt Rivers crusaded for the preservation of ethnographic material which was discarded by museums and a decade before Oldman sold fine ethnographic items to a handful of late Victorians fleshing out their curiosity collections. The published example, in an unidentified museum had some age when acquired in 1924 allowing that it might predate the 1897 event and even been part of the spoils. This example compares favorably in every respect, including artistry and age and may, by association, be speculatively identified as a part of the 1897 booty. Framing it together with another, but less important example, is consistent with the British tradition of displaying trophies of military and public service in, often grand, homes. The addition of the second panel, surely from the same acquisition, provided the proportions demanded by Victorian taste.

I purchased the two, framed together, at Christie's, London, about 1980 and they have hung in my office since then as they embody what drives this business: treasures from the bright spots of the past needing clearer definition to anchor their place in history and bring their context to life.

Stock Number: FNS5184

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