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Maker: Olowe of Ise
ca. 1875-ca. 1938
Yoruba artist
Bowl with figures
Date: ca. 1925
Medium: Wood, pigment
Dimensions: H x W x D: 63.7 x 33.8 x 39 cm (25 1/16 x 13 5/16 x 15 3/8 in.)
Credit Line: Bequest of William A. McCarty-Cooper
Geography: Nigeria
Object Number: 95-10-1
Search Terms:
female
Status
male
Male use
Shrine/Altar
Exhibited: Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts

Olowe of Ise was born about 1875 in Efon-Alaiye, a town in eastern Yorubaland that was once a kingdom and one of the most important centers of Yoruba carving. Olowe moved to Ise at a young age to serve the Arinjale (king) as a court messenger. The details of his early life and training in sculpture are not known. His descendants claim he was self-taught, but it is likely that he learned the Yoruba canon and perfected his carving skills during an apprenticeship. Eventually he became a master artist at the Arinjale's palace, and as his fame grew, other Yoruba kings and wealthy families commissioned him to carve architectural sculptures, masks, drums and other objects for their palaces. Olowe probably carved this lidded bowl with figures for a king or other person of high social status or for a shrine. Among the Yoruba such elaborately carved and decorated bowls were prestige objects used to offer kola nuts to guests or to deities during religious worship. That Olowe was an innovative and virtuosic, even daring, artist is demonstrated in this sculpture. The image of four dancing girls on the lid, for example, is the first such representation in Yoruba art. Olowe's choice of dancers raises questions about his inspiration. Had he seen a picture of the Three Graces of ancient Greece or, as reproduced in "Notre colonie: Le Congo Belge" (1909: 55), a photograph of grass-skirted females similarly posed in a circle? Olowe also depicted nude males, one of whom is kneeling, on this bowl. Such renderings are exceptional and challenge the Yoruba canon. Finally, except for the lid, the entire sculpture, including the bearded head shown resting on the base, was carved from a single piece of wood. While the head can be moved within the "cage" formed by the male and female figures, it cannot be removed. The bowl is believed to be a later version of a bowl in the Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection which was collected at the turn of the century. Although similar in design and decoration, this later work is a more dynamic sculpture.

Wood bowl composed of a kneeling female figure holding the bowl supported by female and male figures. Four female figures clasp arms atop the bowl's lid. A bearded male head rolls under the bowl behind the supporting figures. The bowl has an overall dark patina with underlying pigments of red, white and green.

Leon Underwood, collected in Nigeria, 1945


Sidney Burney, London, 1946


William Moore, Los Angeles, 1946 to 1984


William McCarty-Cooper (and estate), Los Angeles, 1985 to 1995


Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2017-ongoing



Variations on a Theme: Three Olumeye by Olowe of Ise, Dallas Museum of Art, September 18, 2005-January 15, 2006



Treasures, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 17, 2004-August 15, 2005



Olowe of Ise: A Yoruba Sculptor to Kings, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., March 15-September 7, 1998



Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought, Center for African Art, New York, September 20, 1989-January 7, 1990; The Art Institute of Chicago, February 10-April 1, 1990; The National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., May 8-August 26, 1990; The Cleveland Museum of Art, September 26-December 9, 1991; New Orleans, LA: The New Orleans Museum of Art, January 11-March 24, 1991; The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, April 23-June 16, 1991



African Art in the Cycle of Life, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., September 28, 1987-March 20, 1988



Tradition and Change in Yoruba Art, E. B. Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, 1971



Yoruba Sculpture in Los Angeles Collections, Montgomery Art Center, Pomona College, Claremont, March-April, 1969



Ralph C. Altman Memorial Exhibition, The Museum and Laboratories of Ethnic Arts and Technology, University of California, Los Angeles, April-June, 1968



Nigeria: 2000 Jahre Plastik, Stadliche Galerie, Munich, September 29, 1961-January 7, 1962; Kunsthalle Basel, January 20-February 18, 1962



Masterpieces of African Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, 1954-1955



One World of Art, The Los Angeles County Fair, Pomona, September, 1951



African Negro Sculpture, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, September-November, 1948



Adams, Monni. 1977. "An Evening with William Fagg." African Arts 10 (4), no. 10.



Allison, Philip. 1968, p. viii.



Armstrong, Robert Plant. 1971. The Affecting Presence. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, p. 110.



Armstrong, Robert Plant. 1981. The Powers of Presence: Consciousness, Myth, and Affecting Presence. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, no. 3.



Biebuyck, Daniel P. 1969. Tradition and Creativity in Tribal Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 56, no. 25.



Drewal, Henry John and John Pemberton III. 1990. Yoruba, Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought. New York: Center for African Art in association with H.N. Abrams, p. 209, no. 242.



Eyo, Ekpo. 2008. From Shrines to Shocases: Masterpieces of Nigerian Art. Abuja, Nigeria: The Ministry of Information and Communicaton, pp. 180-181, no. 126.



Fagg, William and John Pemberton III.1982. Yoruba Sculpture of West Africa. New York: Pace Editions. p. 44, no. 49.



Getlein, Mark. 2008. Living with Art. Textbook. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.



Getlein, Mark. 2009. Living with Art. Textbook. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.



Getlein, Mark. 2013. Living with Art. Textbook. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.



Hornbeck, Stephanie E. 2009. "A Conservation Conundrum: Ephemeral Art at the National Museum of African Art." African Arts 42 (3), pp. 52-53, no. 2.



Kreamer, Christine Mullen. 2003. " A Tribute to Roy Sieber: Part 2." African Arts 36 (2), p. 20, no. 21.


Lommel, Andreas. 1961. Nigeria: 2000 Jahre afrikanische Plastik. Munich: Piper, p. 28, no. 156.



McClelland, Elizabeth M. 1982. The Cult of Ifa Among the Yoruba. London: Ethnographica, cover.



National Museum of African Art, 1987-1997: Celebrating 10 Years on the Mall. 1997. Museum brochure. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, no. 1995.



National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 68-69.



Patton, Sharon F. 2004. Treasures: Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. Folio.



Robbins, Warren. 1966. African Art in American Collections. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, p. 130, no. 159.



Sieber, Roy and Roslyn Adele Walker. 1987. African Art in the Cycle of Life. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 105, no. 56.



Stockstad, Marilyn and Michael W. Cothren. 2010. Art: A Brief History (4th edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.



Visoná, Monica Blackmun, Robin Poyner, Herbert M. Cole and Michael D. Harris. 2001. A History of Art in Africa. New York: Harry N. Abrams, p. 249, no. 8-30.



Visoná, Monica Blackmun, Robin Poyner and Herbert M. Cole. 2008. A History of Art in Africa. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, p. 250, no. 8-35.



Walker, Roslyn Adele. 1998. Olowe of Ise: A Yoruba Sculptor to Kings. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 26-27, no. 28.



Walker, Roslyn Adele. 1998. Olowe of Ise: A Yoruba Sculptor to Kings. Exhibition brochure. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, no. 6, front cover.



Willett, Frank. 1973. African Art: An Introduction. New York: Praeger, p. 234, no. 232.



Wingert, Paul S. 1950. African Negro Sculpture: A Loan Exhibition. San Francisco: M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, no. 36.


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