Friday, 20 January 2012

African Textiles in Africaniste Art–an unusual case.


Marché en A.O.F. signed J.B. Vettiner, 1931. [click all images to enlarge]. From Christie’s sale The Africanists, Amsterdam 1 July 1998. Oil on canvas, preparatory work for a mural painted in the pavilion of the city of Bordeaux at the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition in Paris.

Although this is in most respects a typical colonial genre scene of no outstanding merit, it is unusual because of the detail and accuracy with which the artist has depicted the textiles worn by the participants. Moreover the textiles shown are in several instances extremely rare styles not well represented even in French museum collections. I am intrigued to find these cloths shown in this context and can’t help wondering if they have survived in an obscure French collection, perhaps in Bordeaux, to this day. The scene was clearly not drawn from life – there is no suggestion in the limited biographical information available on the artist, Jean-Baptiste Vettiner (1871-1935), that he travelled in West Africa, and the cloths shown are far too elaborate and expensive to have been worn by porters in the market. Gathering cotton was a frequent theme of colonial imagery as the postcards dating to circa 1910-20 below show.



So what can be said about these cloths ? The image below numbers the main pieces.


1. Wool kaasa blanket from Mali, of the lanndaaka type, with the central motif of the mosque, lanndal, woven by a maabo weaver. Shown  wrongly worn vertically as a kind of hooded burnous rather wrapped horizontally. The kaasa lanndaaka below is in the National Museum of Mali, Bamako – see Textiles du Mali, Bernhard Gardi, 2003.


2 and 4. Indigo dyed cotton cloths with white warp stripes at the selvedge of each strip and coloured supplementary weft float motifs are typical of the Bondoukou region on the northern part of the Ghana/ Côte D'Ivoire border, where they were woven by Dioula, and perhaps Abron or Koulango weavers. The cloth below is on our gallery.


3 and 6. These are really obscure types, related to weft faced cloths woven in West and north west parts of Côte D'Ivoire by weavers who may be Guro, Mande or Dioula, working in a number of as yet undocumented local traditions. The Musee Quai Branly in Paris has a superb collection of related pieces, although unfortunately largely without much useful collection data. Search for Côte D'Ivoire  in their textiles collection database to see more. They have the piece below as Senufo but that is unlikely as the Senufo learned weaving from the Dioula in the early decades of the C20th.


5. Also from Côte D'Ivoire this cloth is an example of a slightly better known but still rare style that we believe to be the work of Guro or Mande weavers. The example below is on our gallery now.


7. One of the more unusual types of Malian blanket, the arkilla bammbu would have been used as a prestige display hanging for a Fulani wedding and is most unlikely to have been worn at all. The detail below is from a cloth in the National Museum of Mali, Bamako – see Textiles du Mali, Bernhard Gardi, 2003.


8. This cloth has embroidered rather than woven decoration, probably the work of a Hausa embroiderer in the north of Côte D'Ivoire. I know of only one related example of this style on a man’s wrap cloth (rather than robes and trousers). Now in the Karun Thakar collection ( it was acquired in Accra and probably collected in northern Ghana.


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