“African Venus” was created by the sculptor Charles Henri Joseph Cordier in bronze in 1851. The sculpture was created as a companion piece to an earlier work created by Charles Cordier entitled “Said Abdullah of the Mayac, Kingdom of the Darfur”. The model was a young African woman by the name of Seïd Enkess who was a former slave in France. Both busts became popular after France abolished slavery in 1848. Charles Cordier himself was sympathetic to the abolitionist movement and believed in the beauty and equality of all races.
“Saïd Abdullah of the Mayac, Kingdom of the Darfur” was his first successful bust and was sculpted in 1848 and displayed at the Paris Salon. After the creation of these two sculptures, Charles Cordier served as the official sculptor of Paris’s National History Museum from 1851 to 1866. There, for the new Ethnographic Gallery that is now housed at Musee de L’Homme, he created a series of beautiful and lifelike busts.
Charles Henri Joseph Cordier was considered the leading Ethnographic Sculptor in 19th Century France. Ethonography is a historical science that studies ethnic groups and other ethnic formations and their material and spiritual culture. His work was admired by critics and other artist during the 19th Century but he often had to defend the subjects of his sculptures and the materials he used in the creation of his artwork. As a result, his work fell out of favor and into obscurity during the 20th Century.
“African Venus” and “Said Abdullah” were respected in the 19th Century after the abolishment of slavery came to represent expressions of human pride and dignity in the face of grave injustice. These were the first two of fifteen busts created for the French state and these powerful expressions of nobility and dignity were also purchased by dignitaries such as Queen Victoria and the Museum of Natural History in France.
There are two busts that were sculpted by Charles Henri Joseph Cordier and cast by the Paris foundry Eck and Durand in 1852 at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD. Plan a visit to view them in person!