Provenance: Miriam Matthews, Los Angeles; thence by descent to the current owner.
We believe this cast was made later, likely after a bronze cast and not from the 1935 original mold. We have found no record of this casting, and it lacks a foundry mark. Neither Barthé's scholar Margaret Rose Vendryes nor the Modern Art Foundry, which did many of his later castings, have any knowledge of this casting of Feral Benga. This bronze has a different surface with smoother modelling, and the arms and torso are positioned at different angles.
Very few examples of Feral Benga that predate his 1986 edition are known today. There are only two bronzes known to exist from the original 1935 casting - in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Newark Museum. There is one known instance of an intermediary casting that likely dates no later than the early 1960s - located in a private collection, it was authenticated by Vendryes. The 1986 authorized edition of 10 differs from the earliest casts in a number of ways - including the lack of a sword handle and a thicker base.
Feral Benga represented the culmination of Richmond Barthé's study of the figure in sculpture, anatomy and dance in the 1930s, and his pioneering realization of an ideal male nude. According to Vendryes, Feral Benga was completed within a few months of seeing the Folies Bergères dancer Benga perform on stage during his first visit to Paris in 1934. Vendryes describes how Benga was an exotic celebrity - a Senegalese cabaret dancer known in Parisian and Manhattan gay circles, who had perfomed on stage with Josephine Baker and had even appeared in a Jean Cocteau surrealist film. Barthé used postcards, photographs and his memory to recreate a life-like representation of the dancer. The raised sword pose also recalls the muscular nudes of the famous Mannerist engraving by Antonio Pollaiuolo, Battle of Naked Men, circa 1470. Vendryes pp. 66-69.