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Influence of Ethnic Art in Europe

The number of objects and the establishment of museums dedicated to Ethnic Art led artists from the emerging avant-garde, at the beginning of the 20th Century, to focus on the expressiveness of objects from Black Africa.

Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were some of the first artists who were seduced and influenced by those artistic expressions, and everyone knows the obvious influence of African masks on the characters’ faces in “Demoiselles d’Avignon” by Picasso.

The Ethnographic Museum of the Trocadéro was created in 1878 in Paris, and it was mainly there where young avant-garde artists nourished their curiosity.

Particularly in France, other museums were created, such as the Museum of Man, the Arts and Civilizations, the Museum of Arts from Africa and Oceania and the Dapper Museum in Paris. In the same vein, there is the Museum of African Art in Lyon (belonging to a religious congregation) and the Museum of African, Oceanian and Amerindian Arts, founded in Marseilles at the end of the 20th Century. At the same time, the Museum for the Belgian Congo was established in Belgium in 1910, promoted by King Leopold II, to house a large number of objects from its main colony.

Sculptures and other items of Ethnic Art

The most important part of ancient Ethnic Art are sculptures (mostly in bronze) from the Kingdom of Benin, which were mostly made during the 15th and 16th centuries. However, pieces on the market are basically of the 19th and 20th centuries, since these objects survived everyday’s use and customs with difficulty. Most of the items were made of wood, especially sculptures, but also masks, spoons or furniture, which were useful and have their own features depending on the ethnic group in which they were created.

The use of patina and wear and tear give a special and more authentic value to those objects. An important aspect when it comes to calculate the age of African works of art is to know the traceability or origin of those works. Certainly, those who arrived in Europe, from the Congo to Belgium or from other colonies to their metropolis, and whose origin is documented, have many more guarantees of records. However, the progress in the study of African art in recent decades offers more and more guarantees of knowledge and cataloguing of such an interesting art, which is different from other cultural traditions. This allows more pieces to arrive at art auction houses.