Bronze with a dark brown patina, modeled in 1935, cast circa 1960. Approximately 483 mm; 19 inches high (not including the marble base). Cast by the Modern Art Foundry, Long Island City, NY. Signed at the base edge.
Provenance: the artist; Samella Lewis, Los Angeles; Dr. Linda F. Rankin, New Jersey (1988); William Watson Hines III, thence by descent, private collection, New Jersey. Hines was a business writer, art dealer and collector who lent many works from his collection to the Art In Embassies Program of the US State Department.
Illustrated: Cedric Dover. American Negro Art, plate 70 (another impression).
Feral Benga represents 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 Barthé scholar Margaret Rose Vendryes, Feral Benga, Barthé's "signature piece," 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.
Grander in scale than its actual size, Feral Benga was one of the artist's major achievements in his life-long body of work, a natural and sensual representation of the male nude, made at the height of his career. The sculpture was first shown at the 1937 Dance International exhibition at Rockefeller Center, and was later featured and illustrated in Alain Locke's seminal survey, The Negro in Art.. The figure is also important as a groundbreaking evocation of both male and homosexual sexuality in early 20th century American Art.
Thank you to Margaret Vendryes for her assistance with the cataloguing of this cast. This is only the second mid-career cast of this bronze sculpture to come to auction--there are only two bronzes known to exist from the first 1935 casting. Under the supervision of the artist and the Richmond Barthé Trust, an edition of 10 numbered casts and a small number of artist's proofs of Feral Benga were made in 1986. Vendryes pp. 66-69.