A large 19th Century Bronze Sculpture of an African Man with green patination and marble base. Height including base 24” (61cm).
He is depicted with downcast eyes, shoulders slightly hunched, arms crossed protectively across his chest. His outer wrist bears a chain-shaped marking and his naked torso suggests vulnerability. His brow is furrowed and the overall impression given is of someone mistreated yet unbroken. There is a strong sense of intelligence and simmering resentment.
We lean towards this being either a British or American work. Of those, we think most likely British and probably commissioned by an abolitionist, either for their home or a public building. The way the subject has been depicted suggests when it was most likely made, simply on the basis of when there would most likely have been a demand for such a work.
This is not a heavy casting. A knuckle tap gives a hollow sound and its finish is not quite of the quality that might be expected if it were intended primarily as a work of art. That the piece is unsigned also supports that it had another purpose, for what it says, making a clear statement about where someone stood on the subject of slavery. It can easily be imagined in an alcove of a hall or home, the abolitionist sympathies of the occupants clear to any visitor.
Although it may have been made for a purpose other than art, in our opinion this is a masterpiece of sculpture. The best portrait sculptures share an eerie quality of appearing to be about to come alive and this work has that in abundance. The proportion, stance and expression are what gives it that quality and whoever the sculptor was, they were clearly highly talented.
Seeking further evidence of age, we loosened the machine screws attaching the bronze to the marble base just enough to insert an otoscope and take a look inside. The screws fasten into threaded holes in a steel strip affixed internally across the sculpture. Machine screws were certainly in use at the beginning of the 19th century. In this case they have domed, slotted heads and long shanks, maybe 1/4” diameter, fully threaded. We were not able to establish the type of thread used but there is also the question of whether the base is original to the piece, as it has its own rectangular bronze base.
Internally, there is oxidisation of the steel strip, machine screws, and bronze. This is significant in establishing age, if not a conclusive measure. Internal oxidisation of hollow bronze sculptures occurs due to condensation as air temperature varies. The more oxidisation, the longer the process has been taking place. However, this is variable depending on humidity and the degree of temperature change, so is more an indicator of age than its measure. For example, a modern home kept at a fairly constant temperature and low humidity would produce minimal internal oxidisation. In the days of coal or wood fires, temperature swings, and high humidity, internal it could be significantly higher.
Height: 24” (61cm)
Width: 17” (43cm)
Depth: 12”. (30cm)
43Lb (19.4kg). We suspect the marble base accounts for much of the overall weight.
Unknown. Sourced most recently from South-East England.
Various small scuffs and marks commensurate with age. Accretions of dust in nooks and crannies. Internal oxidisation as already discussed above. IMPORTANT: Because of the oxidisation of the machine screws and the plate into which they are threaded, we recommend only lifting this piece by its base. Solid marble is heavy and if the work were lifted by, say, the arms, there would be a risk of the machine screws stripping their threads and the base coming adrift, which might have some very unfortunate consequences for the lifter’s toes!
Large 19th Century Bronze of an African Man
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