Pierre Dartevelle

50 Years of Collecting

May 22, 2018 By: Adenike Cosgrove
Pierre Dartevelle with his Bamileke tsesah Crest

Photograph by Valérie Dartevelle

The upcoming Lempertz exhibition, ‘Pierre Dartevelle, 50 Years of Collecting—Art of the Congo’, will feature 91 figures, masks, initiation objects, musical instruments, and utility objects from Central Africa, collected over 50 years by the dealer and collector Pierre Dartevelle. Dartevelle is known to many as a renowned dealer that over the years, has helped shape and build the collections of private collectors and public institutions globally. But few know about Dartevelle, the collector.

Curated by Laurent Jacob, in association with Tim Teuten and Emilie Jolly of Lempertz, the exhibition explores the never-before-seen private collection of Pierre Dartevelle.


"Both as a child and as an adult, I have known only a man impassioned, absorbed, and hypnotised by art."
—Valérie Dartevelle


A Passion Grounded in History

Born 1940, in Belgium, Pierre Dartevelle was introduced to African art at an early age. His father, Edmond Dartevelle, a specialist in natural sciences, was sent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1930s by the Museum of the Belgian Congo (today the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren) and the Royal Belgian Colonial Institute. His mission was to study the geological structure and palaeontology of the shorelines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Angola, Chad, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Gabon—a pretty broad mission. But through his research, by integrating with the rural communities of much of Central Africa, Edmond was exposed to much more than rock samples and fossils. Edmond Dartevelle inevitably collected art.

Over his time in African countries, Edmond collected and brought back more than 3,500 objects—many of them viewed as ethnographic at the time, many of them viewed as masterpieces today.

Kongo nkisi nkondi power figure, field collected in 1979 by Edmond Dartevelle in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Photographs Courtesy Royal Museum for Central Africa

Pierre Dartevelle in his living room in Boitsfort

Photograph by Valérie Dartevelle

Much like his father, Pierre Dartevelle could not resist the pull of Africa and its arts. Despite studying to become a lawyer, Pierre chose to instead become a dealer of classic works of African art. Having lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a child (between 1946 and 1949 during his father’s last posting to the region), Pierre was familiar with its peoples and cultures. This familiarity ultimately led to him returning to the country to deepen his knowledge of historical African art.

Due in part to being surrounded by objects from the region, Pierre chose to specialise in works from Central Africa, in particular, those from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He took “advantage of the opportunity that he had at the end of the ‘60s, to acquire examples of Hemba sculptures and also Tabwa figures, which it could be said, were at that time rediscovered. He would bring to the chiefs of traditional communities the means and materials essential for modernisation and they in return would give him traditional objects, which the chiefs knew were no longer adequate to maintain their power,” according to Corinne Hershkovitch, French lawyer specialising in the art market, cultural property and heritage.

By collecting in-situ, Pierre had a clear understanding of what was collected where and in which context. He understood the history and traditional use of the pieces he collected and their significance to the communities that originally created them. Many of these objects that he collected during his travels to African countries form his collection today which until recently included the Batcham headdress that was sold to Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017 and the Tabwa helmet mask sold at Christie’s in April 2018.

In the below video Pierre Dartevelle speaks about his Suku kakuungu mask. The mask was exhibited during the Exposition Universelle et Internationale, Brussels, 1958. It was collected in-situ by the Jesuit fathers of Popokabaka and sold years later to Belgian film director, André Cauvin.


"This collection is remarkable for its exceptionally high level of quality. From the smallest item of jewellery to the most spectacular effigies, the works were selected by a confident eye of great sensitivity."
—Claude Henri Pirat


In June 2010, the Jacques Chirac Museum, hosted the exhibition ‘Carnets de Voyages’, in honour of Edmond Dartevelle. Curated by Laurent Jacob and Bernard Dulon, 140 rare and unique pieces of Kongo art collected by Edmond, were exhibited. ‘Pierre Dartevelle, 50 Years of Collecting – Art of the Congo’ is its sequel. In this exhibition, we will discover Pierre’s passion for the arts of Central Africa. Below, we feature six works that will be on display at the exhibition.

Chokwe Mwana Pwo Mask

Chokwe Mwana Pwo Mask
Dartevelle Collection

Country: Angola
Ethnic Group: Chokwe
Object: Mwana Pwo Mask
Materials: Wood, Fibre, Metal
Dimensions: Height = 20 cm
Provenance: Pierre Dartevelle Collection, Brussels || Libotte Collection, Brussels

 

The Chokwe live in a large area to the north-east of Angola, south-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and more recently they have also migrated into Zambia. They trace their roots back to the 17th century, to a group who broke away from the Lunda empire, and to a mythical ancestor and cultural hero, Chibinda Ilunga who is believed to have introduced a number of hunting techniques, rituals and court manners to the Chokwe.

Masks of both fibre and wood are worn during the mukanda initiation ceremony for young boys and these include the mwana pwo (meaning ‘beautiful young woman’) mask, danced with discreet and elegant movements to teach grace of manners to the women present. The sculptor selects as the source of his inspiration a beautiful young woman of the village, reproducing the design of her tattoos and the arrangement of the hair.

Learn more about these masks in the Mwana Pwo (‘Young Woman’ mask) Discover article.


Kongo Mvuala Staff Finial

Kongo Mvuala Staff Finial, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dartevelle Collection
Kongo Mvuala Staff Finial, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dartevelle Collection

Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ethnic Group: Kongo
Object: Mvuala Staff Finial
Materials: Ivory
Dimensions: Height = 14 cm
Provenance: Pierre Dartevelle Collection, Brussels || Pablo Touchaleaume, Paris

Yombe Nkama Ntinu Sceptre

Yombe Nkama Ntinu Sceptre, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dartevelle Collection
Yombe Nkama Ntinu Sceptre, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dartevelle Collection
Yombe Nkama Ntinu Sceptre, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dartevelle Collection

Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ethnic Group: Yombe
Object: Nkama Ntinu Sceptre
Materials: Ivory
Dimensions: Height = 25.5 cm
Provenance: Pierre Dartevelle Collection, Brussels || Marcel Lemaire, Brussels || Aaron Furman, New York || Marcel de Toledo, Antwerp
Exhibited: Utotombo, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1988
Published: Utotombo || Art Bakongo || White Gold Black Hands, Ivory Sculpture in Congo

 

There are numerous sub-groups within the Kongo kingdom, all speaking the same language, Kikongo, and these include the Vili and Yombe. Their varied ritual artefacts often show a high degree of naturalism with finely carved details.

European contact with the powerful Kongo kingdom dates back to the 15th century when the Portuguese arrived on the coast and the Kongo kingdom was at its most powerful. Ivory was the prerogative of nobility. Fine ivory sceptres and horns, often show signs of great age, with beautiful fine and dark patinas.


Lega Head

Lega Head, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dartevelle Collection

Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ethnic Group: Lega
Object: Head
Materials: Ivory, Cowry Shells
Dimensions: Height = 15 cm
Provenance: Pierre Dartevelle Collection, Brussels || In 1969, Pierre Dartevelle exchanged this head for a large number of staple products in the Village of Kama
Exhibited: Lega. Ethique et Beauté au coeur de l’Afrique, KBC, Brussels, 2002
Published: L’Art Africain, Lega. Ethique et Beauté au coeur de l’Afrique

 

The Lega of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo live mostly in small isolated communities due to their environment—dense rainforest in the west and rocky and less fertile land in the east. Traditionally the Lega were mostly hunters and farmers.

The Bwami society to which almost all Lega men and many women belong, is a complex hierarchical social organisation with several levels, through which members progress slowly, each advancement attained through the acquisition of knowledge through oral and visual teachings, and the distribution of gifts of food, tools, shell money, clothing, etc., to fellow members of the appropriate grade. The oral teachings are learned in the form of sung aphorisms, poetic, highly symbolic, proverb-like texts.

Anthropomorphic carvings were made for members of the two highest Bwami grades, Kindi and Yananio, the former having priority to those made of ivory. The presentation and viewing of the figures marked the summit of initiation rites. In one rite the figure would be oiled and perfumed before being displayed to the accompaniment of secret songs. The figures are aphorisms but their meanings can rarely be identified once removed from their ritual context. They sometimes represent people (e.g. Mungema is the man who shouts at feasts) but others illustrate songs, proverbs and legends. They were jealously guarded by their owners, who kept them in baskets and turned and rubbed them.

When a member died his personal ritual figures and other items were carefully preserved and passed down through the generations, accumulating the power of the initiates through whose hands they had passed, so a Bwami member might have several figures in his possession. This would be an indication of higher status and his relative seniority within the grade.

Learn more about Lega Bwami initiation objects in these Discover articles.


Luluwa Crouching Figure

Luluwa Crouching Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dartevelle Collection
Luluwa Crouching Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dartevelle Collection

Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ethnic Group: Lulua/Luluwa
Object: Crouching Figure
Materials: Wood
Dimensions: Height = 18 cm
Provenance: Pierre Dartevelle Collection, Brussels || Damien Reeners, Brussels

 

The Lulua (also called Luluwa in some sources) migrated to their current homeland in the 17th and 18th centuries. Located in Lulua province to the south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they share a number of cultural traits as well as language with their Luba neighbours.

Small squatting figures were often carved as supports for snuff mortars, worn as amulets about the necks of chiefs, or attached to belts and rifles of hunters.


Zande Figure

Zande Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dartevelle Collection
Zande Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dartevelle Collection

Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ethnic Group: Zande
Object: Figure
Materials: Wood
Dimensions: Height = 11.5 cm
Provenance: Pierre Dartevelle Collection, Brussels || Amersham Auction Rooms, Lot 81 || Robert Hay-Reid, England || Collected in situ in 1908 by an English hunter who lived in DR Congo until 1915

 

The Zande inhabit a wide area that spans the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. They developed a kingdom based on a royal clan, the Vungara, and absorbed foreign populations as their well-organised army conquered new lands. They are therefore composed of a very mixed group of peoples.

Zande art, a court art, is very similar to that of the neighbouring Mangbetu peoples and both display a very refined visual style. The closed association, Mani or Yanda, which disseminated magic amongst its members and settled disputes, produced highly stylised figures both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic.


Pierre Dartevelle, 50 Years of Collecting – Art of the Congo runs at Lempertz, Brussels from 24 May until 06 July 2018.


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