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African Art | Works from the Swiss collection of Walter Schwab

Wednesday 13 October 2021 • Milan


FANG Cameroon, southern region


€ 30.000 - 36.000

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h 52 cm
Byeri male reliquary figure.
Light-coloured medium-dense wood covered with a black glaze, traces of erosion, old fractures, and indigenous restorations. It has a hand-crafted iron necklace and a fitted copper belt.
This represents an ancestral figure (byeri), sculpted following the style that the specialist Louis Perrois has identified as Ntumu, a subgroup of the Fang people located in South Cameroon, north-west of Gabon and around Equatorial Guinea.The main characteristics of this group are:Head of average proportion to a prominent brow, a sleek, slender torso, arms extended from the body, short legs, the trunk of the body sitting on a support beam.These sculptures, preserved in a family sanctuary, were placed on wicker boxes that contained the skulls and remains of the ancestors who had founded their clan’s lineage. During commemoration ceremonies, a mixture of magic substances, sacrificial blood, palm oil, and resins were dripped onto the wood, as this granted the statue its life force.


Ex collezione Walter Glaser (Basilea);
Ex collezione Eduard Hess (2002);Collection of Walter Schwab, Bern (inv. WS 542) (2002);
An old label stuck on the back reads “Africa Camerun 1890” A second handwritten note on the wood displays the date 1912;


PERROIS LOUIS, La statuaire Fang du Gabon, Articolo pubblicato sulla rivista francese Arts d’Afrique Noire n° 7, Autunno 1973, pagg. 22 – 42;
PERROIS LOUIS, Arts du Gabon, Arnouville 1979 (119);
LABURTHE-TOLRA PHILIPPE & FALGAYRETTES-LEVEAU CHRISTIANE, Fang, include un estratto dell’opera di Gunther Tessmann “Les Pahouins” del 1913 tradotto in francese, Fondation Dapper Paris 1991, pagg. 120 - 123 (277);

Specialist Notes

Lot not located at Finarte offices but in Switzerland. It could be subject to customs costs related to the importation into the buyer’s country. In any event, any customs cost and/or burden related to importation shall be borne by the buyer. For more information, please write an email to;
The Ntumu people are a group from Central Africa who, moving from north to south at the start of the 12th century, eventually settled in the lands of south Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and north Gabon up to the village of Oyem between the 18th and 19th centuries.This group was surrounded by other people like the Bulu, Ngumba, Mabea, Okak, Mvai, and there are many sculptures that depict humans of this sort – the custodians of the reliquiaries – both standing and with the supporting beam behind them. The styles influenced each other, which makes an appropriate classification somewhat difficult, despite the many pieces of research carried out.In the westernmost area of Gabon, the Okak and Betsi groups have been identified. These groups crafted their sculptures with the head of a reliquary, and had in common a streaked hairstyle with a wing on each side which start from the middle of the forehead, and continues round to the tufts of hair on the side, and carries on down to the bottom of the nape. This style is well-known but a fairly rare style limited to three heads and a Fang torso, the custodians of reliquiaries. (Tolra, in Dapper 1992, pag. 120 - 123).Referring to the production of the group Ntumu, works that depict this type of hairstyle with tufts of hair on the sides are rare.One sculpture 60cm tall was illustrated by Dr. Louis Perrois in his volume “Arts du Gabon” Arnouville 1979, on pages 54 and 55. As you can see from the documentation here to the side, there are substantial similarities between this sculpture and the one from Schwab’s collection, 52cm tall.Both are male, with a strong neck on a slim figure, a prominent head with a high brow, its mouth open pushed forward with smoothed teeth, globular eyes, raised eyebrows, a streaked hairstyle with large diagonal tufts of hair. The ears are hidden by these tufts from the streaked hairstyle, which also continues down to the nape. In the middle of the head, a thick cylinder emerges which completes the hairstyle. The arms, extended from the body, feature thick rings sculpted on the biceps. The hands have been cut off up to the wrists, like a slice of salami. They have a thick, cone-shaped navel.

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Condition report

To request a Condition Report, please contact The department will provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Please note that what Finarte declares with respect to the state of conservation of the objects corresponds only to a qualified opinion and that we are not professional conservators or restorers. We urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. We always suggest prospective buyers to inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition during the exhibition days as indicated in the catalog.

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