Cordier's African Venus and Saïd Abdallah

The French sculptor Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier (1827-1905) studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and worked under François Rude in 1847. He began exhibiting at the Salon of 1848, and throughout his career spent a great deal of time in North Africa (he died in Algiers), studying and modeling the various peoples he encountered there, attempting to create a kind of grand ethnographic gallery. In 1862 Cordier observed, "The most beautiful Negro is not the one who looks most like us." He is particularly well known for his works executed in a combination of cast bronze and a variety of polished hardstones, as well as for his contribution to the revival of polychrome sculpture in the 19th century. Today many of his works may be seen at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris.

These two busts by Cordier were among the first works to enter the Schomburg Center's Art and Artifacts Collection, the only Library division that actively acquires fine art, applied art, and material culture objects. The division collects, documents, preserves, and interprets art and artifacts by and about peoples of African heritage throughout the world. Correspondence in the Schomburg archives between Arturo Alfonso Schomburg and the painter and printmaker Albert Alexander Smith (a close friend) indicates that these pieces were purchased by Schomburg when he was traveling abroad, probably in Paris. The only trip abroad that Schomburg is known to have made was in 1926, when he used the proceeds from the sale of his private library to augment the collection which later became the core of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. (A photo album now in the archives records Schomburg's travels through France with Smith.) After he returned to the United States, Schomburg sent his friend to the Bibliothèque Nationale to do research on Cordier, but unfortunately the results of Smith's investigation have not survived.


Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier. African Venus (1852) and SaÏŠd Abdallah (1849). Bronze.
The New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division.


Treasures Video: Watch a Short Film about the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Online Exhibition: The Schomburg Legacy: Documenting the Global Black Experience for the 21st Century

About the Art and Artifacts Division