BLACK ARTISTS, BLACK MODELS: A Selling ExhibitionLondon
Bust of a Man from the Vicinity of the Arumini River, About 1900
Gift of the artist to Dick Morton, Hills House, Denham; by inheritance to his wife, and then by descent to his grandniece.
Pierre Kjellberg, Bronzes of the 19th Century: Dictionary of Sculptors, Atglen, Pennsylvania, 1994, p. 648.
Sarita Ward, A Valiant Gentleman, London, 1927, p. 155.
The seeming verisimilitude in the articulations of the details of his Congolese subjects' hairstyles, facial and body scarification, ornament, and clothing of do suggest a certain degree of ethnographic intention. However, Ward was adamant that they were not created as scientific illustrations but that he sought to capture “the spirit of Africa in the broad sense.” However, Ward was not devoid of prejudices and misconceptions. In some of his sculptures, particularly his bronze Sleeping Africa (1902) appears to convey a theory that the development of African cultures was behind that of Western society—a theory perpetuated as a rational for Imperialism and the European colonization of the African continent. Ward likely modeled an allegorical figure of Africa as a figure sleeping on a map of the Africa to imply that colonialism would bring about the “awakening" of the continent to Eurocentric ideals. By the 1910s, however, Ward began to doubt the morality of the colonial experiment in the Congo. His final sculpture, Distress/ The Tragedy of the Congo, depicts a Black male figure with his head down and his arms wrapped in an expression of deep mourning.
Born in London in 1863, Herbert Ward left home at the age of fifteen to travel the world, journeying first to New Zealand and Australia, and then later to Borneo. In 1884 at the age of twenty-one he set out for the Congo. Between 1884 and 1888 Ward supported himself by working for various trading companies managing the transport of goods and supplies to and from European posts along the length of the Congo River. In 1888 he joined Henry Morton Stanley’s Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, serving the expedition in a similar capacity. Following his return to London in 1889, Ward began writing and giving popular lectures about his experiences, which took him around the British Isles and to the United States. Upon his return from America he turned his attention to the fine arts. Ward began his formal studies in painting and sculpture in London and Paris in 1893, and in 1902 he moved permanently to Paris. He found that Paris provided him with access to African and Caribbean models for his sculptures, and that France also had excellent foundries for bronze casting. Ward’s singular focus on Congolese subjects found a ready audience in France, as a number of his French contemporaries likewise depicted African and Asian subjects in their works.
In A Valiant Gentleman, Ward’s wife Sarita wrote about the present composition: “The African Head, the composite portrait of “An Aruwimi Type,” which had evolved from the lump of plasticine at Lambourn, was accepted, and well placed at the Royal Academy in London.” In 1900, Ward gave the plaster cast mentioned by Sarita to his friend, Aston Knight, who sent it to the Paris Salon at which it was awarded a “mention honourable.” A bronze cast of the work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London and at the Société des Artistes Français in Paris in the same year.
The present cast was given by Ward to his neighbour and close friend Dick Morton, who lived at Hills House in Denham and, upon his death, the piece passed to his wife, and had remained in the family until the present. A copy of the book A Valiant Gentleman, accompanies the bronze head. The handwritten inscription inside the book reads: “Mrs Ward, the writer of this book, died in Dickfield House Denham Bucks. Dickfield House was built by (?) Mrs Morton in the field opposite Hills House after Dick’s (Uncle Dick Morton’s) death. Dick Morton and Herbie Ward had always been great friends. He gave Dick the Aruimi Head.”
Ward’s work is rarely available on the market. Most sculptors of his generation would usually cast major series or reductions of their works through large foundries but Ward did not go down this route, preferring to produce but a few versions of each of his compositions. Other versions of the bronze head are currently at the Museé d’Orsay in Paris, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, and the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.
Please note that the price and availability of the above work are subject to change without prior notice.