Magnificient beaded head, Atwonzen
Dschang region, Bamileke people, Northwestern Cameroon, 1700-1800
Wood, glass beads, natural fiber, cauris
Height : 22 cm
Provenance : Collection Herz, Germany
Sotheby’s London, 2 July 1990, lot 116
The William B. Ziff. collection, New York
Publication : P. Harter, Arts Anciens du Cameroun, 1986, p. 121, fig. 150
In 1984, Pierre Harter counted only 6 beaded heads in his reference book “Arts anciens du Cameroun”.
Since then, only one more atwonzen appeared on the market, bringing the total to 7. Clearly,
we are in front of an extremely tight corpus. Although we don’t know much about the initial provenance
of some of these royal objects, they are pretty well documented now with the remarkable
essay published by Dr Bettina von Lintig in the following chapter of this catalogue.
It appears that two of these heads are now in public collections, one in the De Menil Foundation
in Houston, the other one in the Musée du Quai Branly. The four others that were inventoried
previously were all in some of the most prestigious private collections of african art : Allan Stone,
Murray Frum, Pierre Harter, and Bill Ziff, probably the most important collector of Primitive art
in the second half of the twentieth century. This latter example, the only one published in Pierre
Harter’s volume, is illustrated above. By the complexity and richness of his beadwork, but also
by the striking expression of death achieved by the artist, we can probably consider the Bill Ziff
atwonzen as the most beautiful of the whole corpus.
The clarity of the designs and the iconography are here particularly remarkable. All the cosmogony
of the Bamileke is illustrated here in a composition of unmatched elegance and creativity.
As the most important attributes destinated to the king or the Fon, and made by the best artisans
of the royal court, the atwonzen were stored with great care, explaining the excellent state of
conservation on most of them. Despite their great age, attested by the informations gathered by
Pierre Harter and the early provenance of the example collected by Léon Truitard in the late 1920’s
(Murrray Frum collection), these works remain incredibly contemporary and universal.
All resumed, these are certainly some of the reasons why we can consider the atwonzen as one of
the icons of African Art.
For further deails about this atwonzen please refer to Bettina von Lintig’s text, pages 55, 60-65.
Biblio. : HARTER, Arts Anciens du Cameroun, 1986, Arts d’Afrique Noire, Arnouville. Page 249, P. XXVI.