By RANDY KENNEDY
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has received a major donation of Benin bronzes and ivories, a gift that promises to transform its African collection.
The works, from the collector Robert Owen Lehman, include 28 bronzes and 6 ivories, which will go on display at the museum in late 2013, joining the lone Benin work, aterra-cotta head, now in the permanent collection.
Mr. Lehman, a great-grandson of a founder of Lehman Brothers, bought the works from dealers and at auction from the 1950s through the ’70s. “Benin craftsmen produced some of the finest examples of bronze casting ever made anywhere in the world,” Mr. Lehman said in a statement. “I wanted the works to go into a gallery where they could be shown in a context that makes their power, beauty and technical sophistication evident.”
The kingdom of Benin, in what is now Nigeria, reached the height of its economic powers between 1300 and 1500, and the art produced by the kingdom is renowned for its beauty and idealized naturalism. In 1897, much of the art of the Benin court was destroyed or taken during a British military expedition, making it difficult or impossible for scholars to trace the history of the work.
In a statement announcing the donation, the museum said that “many works of art in the Lehman Collection are known to have left Benin in 1897, and the remainder likely left at the same time.”