The vital rhythm of Africa Two masterpieces by Mwenze Kibwanga

The two paintings by Mwenze Kibwanga that Bertolami Fine Art has the pleasure to propose in the next Asian and Tribal Art auction to be held in Rome on June 11th, are two absolute masterpieces in the production of this inspired artist.

Mwenze Kibwanga is one of the fathers of modern Congolese painting, and one of the greatest sources of inspiration for the large number of artists from the Democratic Republic of Congo who are currently enjoying great success all over the world, as demonstrated - just to give just one example - by the sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art organised by Sotheby's London on 28 March 2018, during which twelve of the fourteen Congolese works available were sold for a total of over £330,000.

Born in 1925 in Kilumba, in the then Belgian Congo, Mwenze Kibwanga has attended the Atelier du Hangar, an art school founded by the French painter Pierre Romain-Desfossés, together with other artists including Bela Sara and Pili Pili Mulongoy, since 1950.

The watchword of that adventure: freedom of expression, as much in the subjects as in the style, as is evident from the works of these Congolese avant-garde painters, certainly tied to their land but skillful in using techniques and artistic languages alien to their tradition, such as oil on canvas and a certain formal synthesis.

A fruitful collaboration between these innovative African artists with galleries and museums all over the world began with the organization of solo and group exhibitions in Belgium and South Africa, in Paris and London, in Rome and at the MoMA in New York.

Almost a century after its beginnings - born in the 1920s thanks to the intuition of the Belgian administrator Georges Thiry who supplied the materials for painting to Albert Lubaki and Dijilatendo, ensuring that their works were exhibited in 1929 at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and subsequently in Geneva and Paris - Congolese modern art has been celebrated in recent years in exhibitions with an international scope such as the one entitled Beauté Congo 1926-2015 Congo Kitoko, held at the "Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain" in Paris between 11 July 2015 and 10 January 2016, in which - among others - were exhibited works by Mwenze Kibwanga, or the still ongoing one entitled Congo Stars, organized at the Kunsthalle in Tübingen in Germany.

The quotations of Mwenze Kibwanga executives are steadily increasing. On 18 September 2018, a dozen of his works - some of which appeared at the 2015-2016 Paris exhibition mentioned above - were successfully exhibited at Piasa in Paris. The lot that stood out most was the 652, a composition with monkeys (Untitled) from 1957) in his immediately recognisable style, 'only' 37 x 51 cm in size, roughly equivalent to the others at auction, sold for €46,150. They all belonged to Pierre Loos, one of the major collectors of contemporary African art.

The two paintings by Mwenze Kibwanga that Bertolami Fine Art has the pleasure to propose in the next Asian and Tribal Art auction to be held in Rome on June 11th, are two absolute masterpieces in the production of this inspired artist. Exceptional in size (90 x 176 cm lot 256 and 87 x 204 cm lot 257), the paintings both depict a dance scene, one with a single dancer accompanied by an orchestra performing in front of a village head, the other with a theory of bodies in motion that recalls the neoclassical dancers of Antonio Canova.

Whispers of limbs in euphoria, in an articulated incandescence of black and white geometrical traits, lightening between the sincere chromatic backgrounds of the indigo of the background and the orange-brick of the anatomies: admiring them, one seems to be able to hear the rhythm of the percussion beats, the echo of the primordial sound that reverberates from the depths of immense Africa.

The two paintings come from a private Italian collection. The parents of the present owners lived with their two young children in Lubumbashi between October 1965 and April 1968. Passionate about art, the two met Mwenze Kibwanga personally, appreciated his work and commissioned him to create two paintings. At first, however, the artist had to refuse the commission because at that time he was short of money and could not afford to buy the materials needed for painting, let alone buy them because there was no money available in the city at the time. The two principals then decided to buy canvases, oil paints and brushes in Italy and have them shipped to Africa.

The result of this far-sighted initiative are the two paintings on this occasion, previously unpublished masterpieces by one of the founders of contemporary African art.

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