Sculpture in wood representing Queen Victoria. [DCF Court Team 16/12/2002]

Place details: AFRICA. Nigeria / Lagos [?]. Cultural Group: Yoruba: Aku?: Saro?: Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Wood Plant / ?. Processes: Carved / Polished / ?. Colour: Brown Dimensions: Max H = 420 mm Max W = 145 mm Max D = 185 mm Field Collector: Mr de Montmorency When Collected: By October 1965 Other Owners: Estelle G. de Montmorency PRM Source: Estelle G. de Montmorency Acquired: Donated October 1965 Other Numbers: 36

KEYWORD: Figure / CLASS: Figure / ?.

Publications history, trails & websites: Listed as number 36 on page 8 of Art from the Guinea Coast (Pitt Rivers Museum, Illustrated Catalogue No. 1), Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum (1965): 'NIGERIA Western Region ... 36. Effigy of Queen Victoria by a Yoruba carver from Ijebu Province. Late nineteenth century. (1965.10.1.) (72.3 cm.)'. Also illustrated in black and white in unnumbered plate XVI. (For details of exhibition, see under 'Display History'.) [JC 12 9 2013]

Published as a PRM postcard (no. 58), captioned: 'Queen Victoria as seen by a Nigerian carver. Late 19th century effigy in polished wood, 422 mm high. Yoruba, Nigeria, West Africa (1965.10.1).' (copy in RDF). Reprinted 1996. [JC 12 6 1996]

Illustrated in colour on page 25 of The Pitt Rivers Museum: A Souvenir Guide to the Collections, by Julia Cousins (Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum 1993). [JC 4 7 1996]

Illustrated in black and white on page 62 of The New York Review of Books, Vol. XLIII, no. 8 (June 20, 1996), where it illustrates 'Goodbye to All That?', an article by James Fenton (pp. 59-64). [JC 12 6 1996]

Illustrated in black and white on page 316 of The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire, edited by P. J. Marshall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). [JC 4 7 1996]

Illustrated in black and white on page E4 of The Washington Post (Sunday 1 March 1998), where it illustrates 'In Oxford, the Real Loot' by Nina Kilham (an article about the Pitt Rivers Museum); photocopy in RDF. [JC 18 7 2002]

Illustrated in colour on page 125 of The Radio Times for 17 to 23 April 1999, where it illustrates a short account of the radio series 'A Week at the Pitt Rivers' to be broadcast during the week: 'A Yoruban [sic] portrait of Queen Victoria, originating what is now Nigeria, is typical of the carved wooden figures that inspired work by engineer, cartoonist and maker of automata, Tim Hunkin. He is the first of five visitors to Oxford's Pitt Rivers museum this week, who sift through different areas of the collection before building work closes much of the museum for the next six months.' [JC 10 10 2019]

Illustrated in colour as figure 231 on page 243 of The Victorian Vision: Inventing New Britain, edited by John M. MacKenzie (London: V&A Publications, 2001); caption (same page) reads: 'African statue of Queen Victoria. Wood, 19th century. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.' Also illustrated in colour in the gallery guide accompanying the exhibition: 'Queen Victoria wearing crown. Yoruba wood carving, Nigeria, late-19th century. Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford' (copy in RDF), and published by the Victoria and Albert Museum as a cut-out postcard (example in RDF). [JC 5 7 2000, 20 3 2001, 29 3 2001, 19 5 2013]

Illustrated (image reversed) in colour on page 48 of BBC History Magazine, Vol. II, no. 4 (April 2001); photocopy in RDF. [JC 29 3 2001]

Illustrated in colour on page 10 of Museums Journal, Vol. CI, no. 4 (April 2001), where it illustrates 'A Brief Message to Our Sponsors...', by Simon Tait, an article that refers briefly to The Victorian Vision exhibition (see above). [JC 10 4 2001]

Illustrated in colour on page 15 of The Victorian Vision: Images of an Astonishing Era, by Paul Atterbury, a supplement 'presented with' the May 2001 issue of BBC Homes and Antiques (in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum); photocopy in RDF. [JC 11 7 2001]

Detail reproduced on the cover of Representations of West Africa as Exotic in British Colonial Travel Writing, by Claudia Gualtieri (Lewiston etc.: Edwin Mellen, 2002). [JC 11 11 2002]

Illustrated in colour on page 30 of Pitt Rivers Museum: An Introduction, by Julia Cousins (Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 2004). Caption (same page, for this and 1981.12.1) reads: 'Two sculptures by Yoruba artists from Nigeria: one a caricature portrait of District Officer Mr B. J. A. Matthews, the other a portrait of a distinctly unamused Queen Victoria.' [JC 8 10 2004]

Illustrated in colour on page 42 of Particularly Ravishing Morsels: Recipes from Around the World Inspired by the Collections, by The Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum (no place [Oxford], no publisher [Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum], no date [2007]). It is used to illustrate a recipe for 'Selkirk Bannock' by Liz Yardley and captioned 'Yoruba carving of Queen Victoria, Nigeria. 1965.10.1' [El.B 29/04/2008]

This object features in the Museum's audio tour produced in 2010. Transcription as follows: 'This carved wooden sculpture of Queen Victoria, made by a Yoruba artist from Nigeria, is one of the most popular objects in the Museum. Nigeria officially became a British protectorate in 1901 although there had been much activity there by the British during the preceding century. British explorers, missionaries, traders, diplomats, soldiers and naturalists, all brought ethnographic material and exotic objects such as this back to Britain, arousing curiosity and wonder. Probably made in the late 19th century, this sculpture was given to the Museum by the widow of a former member of the Nigerian Administrative Service. There are other Yoruba sculptures of Queen Victoria similar to this in collections around the world, including the British Museum. At its height, Queen Victoria’s British Empire encompassed a quarter of the world’s population, but she herself never travelled outside of Europe. So the carver probably worked from a photograph of the "Great White Queen", or her image on a postage stamp, from existing sculptures of her, or perhaps partly from his imagination. The most widespread printed image of the Queen in Africa was a three-quarter-length portrait, which perhaps explains why this sculpture ends rather abruptly at the bottom. In fact, if you could turn the whole thing upside down, you would see the carver has given the Queen a dainty pair of shoes. The sculpture interprets details of European facial features and dress – such as the pointed nose and the ribbons and jewels – within existing Yoruba carving conventions. These include the enlarged head, the bulging, almond-shaped eyes, and the pronounced bosom. The Yoruba regard the head as the most important part of a person – the source of their life-force, personality and destiny – and a traditional carver begins with, and emphasises, the head. Here, Victoria’s disproportionally large crown also reinforces her heightened honour, status and power. Yet she is not rendered as an aloof ruler of a distant country – the soft expression and chubby cheeks make her seem like a real person – kindly, motherly and popular.' (Written by Helen Hales) References: Mullen, N., ‘Yoruba Art & Culture’, Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology and the Regents of the University of California, Berkeley (2004), accessed at: http://wysinger.homestead.com/yoruba.html; ‘Carving of Queen Victoria’, British Museum (Catalogue No. AOA 1988.Af12.1); Lawal, Babatunde, ‘Ori: the Significance of the Head in Yoruba Sculpture’, Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Spring, 1985), pp. 91–103; 1965.10.1 RDF – article by C. Burland, 'As Others See Us’ (parent publication unknown); Lips, J. The Savage Hits Back, London (1937), chapter XI. [HH 05/07/2010]

Illustrated in colour as Figure 6 on page 16 of 'The Queen as an Aku Woman? Reassessing "Yoruba" Queen Victoria Portrait Figures', by Zachary Kingdon, in African Arts, Vol. 47, no. 3 (Autumn 2014), pp. 8-23. Caption (same page): '5 A highly sanded and polished Category 1 Queen Victoria figure, collected at an unknown date by Mr. de Montmorency, a colonial officer in Nigeria. The elaborate, “neo-Baroque” crown on this figure may indicate Afro-Brazilian Catholic (Aguda) cultural influences. H 42 cm. Donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum by Estelle de Montmorency. 1965.10.1'. Also illustrated (details only) as Figures 16 and 17 on page 17. Captions (same page): '16 Underside of Pitt Rivers Museum Queen Victoria portrait figure (1965.10.1) showing chisel marks.'; '17 Bottom view of Pitt Rivers Museum Queen Victoria portrait figure (1965.10.1) showing booted feet and chisel marks. Red paint marks on the soles of the boots suggests that this figure was kept on a red-painted surface. Significantly, many Krio and Saro wooden frame houses were typically painted in bright primary colors inside and out.' The present figure is discussed at length by Kingdon, who includes it in his 'Category 1' of 'so-called "Yoruba" Queen Victoria figures'. He writes (pages 11-12): 'While certain features of the Pitt Rivers Museum Queen Victoria figure, like the prominent, slightly bulging, almond-shaped eyes and the moulding of the nose, with its distinction of the nasal lobules, are perhaps recognizably Southwestern Yoruba, these features are less well defined than in other late-nineteenth-century wood sculpture from the region. The soft edges and moulding characteristic of almost all Category 1 Queen Victoria figures, along with the strong emphasis given to regal dress and boots, represents a clear stylistic imprint of this sculptural genre, which remains consistent despite the fact that no two figures would appear to have been made by the same sculptor. One reason for this consistency is that most figures in Category 1 have been finished with sandpaper or some other abrasive method. Most also appear to have been carved primarily with mallet and chisels, because inspection of their unpolished undersides reveals a predominance of chisel over adze and knife marks (Fig. 16).... The shiny patina of the Pitt Rivers Museum Victoria figure not only indicates that it was finished with sandpaper, but also that it was treated with some form of waxy furniture polish, which is not a typical treatment for Yoruba sculpture in its indigenous context. The fine surface and good physical condition of the figure also suggests that it was also well looked after in a domestic environment.' In note 6 (page 22), Kingdon notes: 'Although the Pitt Rivers figure is otherwise in fine condition, it has a large crack running up its right side. Most Category 1 figures show similar cracks, which would have been caused by rapid drying of the insufficiently seasoned wood from the base cavity once the booted feet had been carved.' Kingdon suggests that such figures may have been made in Lagos by Yoruba-speaking migrants who had returned to Nigeria (where they were known as Saro) from Sierra Leone (where they were known as Aku). [JC 8 8 2014, 16 6 2017]

Illustrated in colour on page 81 of The Pitt Rivers Museum: A World Within, by Michael O’Hanlon (London: Scala, 2014). Caption (same page) reads: ’60 Sculpture in wood representing Queen Victoria; acquired at the time of, and shown in, Fagg’s exhibition Art from the Guinea Coast. Yoruba people (?), Nigeria Height 420 mm Donated by Mrs E. G. de Montmorency 1965.10.1’ [MJD (Verve) 19/2/2016]

Research notes: A number of broadly similar figures are illustrated and discussed at length in Chapter XI 'The Chieftains of the Whites' in The Savage Hits Back or The White Man through Native Eyes, by Julius E. Lips (London: Lovat Dickson, 1937), pp. 229-38 (copy in RDF). A very similar Yoruba figure (then provenanced to Berkeley Galleries) is illustrated on page 388 of 'As Others See Us', by C. A. Burland (offprint from an as yet unidentified publication in RDF). A highly stylized, probably Mende, figure from Sierra Leone (Horniman Museum, London) is illustrated as no. 58 on page 102 of The Exotic White Man by Cottie A. Burland (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969). A rather different Yoruba figure (in the collection of the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles) is illustrated as fig. 9 on page 117 of 'Queen Victoria for Twenty-Five Pounds: The Iconography of a Breasted Drum from Southern Ghana', by Doran H. Ross in Art Journal, Vol. XXVII, no. 2 (1988), pp. 114-120 (copy in RDF). See also Black Gods and Kings by Robert Farris Thompson (Los Angeles, 1971), pp. 17-18. The unidentified publication has now been identified as: 'As Others See us', by C. A. Burland, in The Geographical Magazine, Vol. 28, no. 8 (December 1954), pp. 383-389. [JC 12 6 1996, 11 10 2019]

In April 2001, Hermione Waterfield (freelance consultant, ex-Christie's) suggested in an email to Jeremy Coote that this figure 'seemed to be by Thomas Ona Odulate of Ijebu-Ode who flourished about 1910-1960'. However, in a note replying to Jeremy Coote's letter to him of 24 April 2001, Frank Willett (ex-Hunterian Museum) says it is definitely not by Thomas Ona Odulate. (Correspondence in RDF.) [JC 12 4 2001; 17 10 2001]