Home Archives & Manuscripts Archive Contents EXHIBITION OF COLONIAL ART, 1949 (A35)

In 1948 the Colonial Office started a campaign to arouse greater interest in British Territories by means of lectures, films, etc. As part of the campaign the Secretary of State for the Colonies invited the RAI in Feb. 1949 to take part in a ‘Colonial Month’ during June and July. It was decided to mount a small exhibition at 21 Bedford Square which was called ‘Traditional art of the British Colonies’. The exhibition was arranged and the catalogue compiled by W.B. Fagg, Hon. Secretary. Though most of the exhibits were lent by private collectors, the Government of Nigeria and the Oni of Ife also lent specimens. The exhibition ran from 21 June to 20 July and was extended to 4 Aug.; it was manned by volunteers. It generated much comment in the press and art journals and the BBC Television programme ‘Art of the Colonies’ on 4 July showed a selection of the exhibits. See Council minutes CM/78/6,8-9, CM/79/1, 8 Mar., 10 May, 14 June, 11 Oct. 1948, ff. 559-60, 569, 572, 578-9; Man, Oct. 1949, No. 145; and Report of the Council 1948/9.


WBF    W.B. Fagg, CMG (1914-92), Keeper, Dep. of Ethnography, British Museum, 1969-74; RAI Hon. Secretary, 1939-56, Hon. Editor of Man 1947-66

1/    General

1    A. Creech Jones, Colonial Office to Prof. C. Daryll Forde (CDF), President, 14 Feb. 1949 – on the government’s wish to arouse greater interest in British Territories; inquires whether the RAI could collaborate; encloses list of organisations invited to assist (mimeo.)

2    List of organizations circularised. 3 leaves (mimeo.)

3    CDF to WBF, 24 Feb. – has heard from Lt. Col. A.E. Beattie (AEB), Colonial Office; he would welcome anything the RAI could do, letting public visit, lectures etc.; should be referred to Council (tp.)

4    Ibid., 28 Feb. – suggests a small exhibition and an Officers’ meeting (tp.)

5    Miss Felicia Stallman, Assistant Secretary, to WBF, 8 Mar. – AEB phoned about the press release for the ‘Colonial Month’ events (tp.)

6    WBF to CDF     (sent) c. 9 Mar. – draft of letter outlining RAI’s contribution in the form of an exhibition of traditional art from the British Colonies (autogr.)

7    CDF to WBF, 11 Mar. – returns draft; approach sound; reference to book display omitted (tp.)

8    WBF to AEB, 14 Mar. – outlines RAI’s contribution; also considering other ways of helping; would appreciate discussing scheme with him (tpc.)

9    WBF to CDF, c. 20 Mar. – hopes to prepare document for Council; describes visit by AEB and discussion with him; suggests contacts with other government departments (autogr. draft)

10    ‘Proposal for a small exhibition in connexion with the ‘Colonial Month’’ – draft by WBF (autogr.)

11    Notes on the exhibition by WBF (autogr.)

12    Circular to Fellows on the ‘Colonial Month’ by WBF on organising a book exhibition, 28 Mar. (mimeo.)

13    Report by WBF to Council, 5 Apr., CM/78/7, Item 12 (mimeo.)

14    ‘Colonial Month’, 20 June-1 Aug. 1949 – Officers outline their recommendation for co-operation, c. 5 Apr. (mimeo.)

15    WBF to AEB, 6 Apr. – reports on a meeting with Philip James, Art Council; he agreed to receive a proposition from the RAI; asks him to write in support of the RAI; comments on publicity (autogr. draft)

16    Ibid., 6 Apr. – separate note on the omission of the Arts Council from the initial list (autogr. draft)

17    AEB to WBF, 9 Apr. – acknowledges letter of 6 Apr. and separate note (/15-16 above)

18    Miss F. Stallman to WBF, 13 Apr. – on the problems of redecorating the Lecture Room for the exhibition and the opening hours (tp.)

19    AEB to WBF, 15 June – Inauguration Ceremony at the Colonial Office by HM the King intended to cover all exhibitions; hopes Secretary of State will visit other important exhibitions; comments on publicity (tp.)

20    Circular to Fellows on the exhibition by WBF and appeal for volunteers to cover the opening hours, 17 June (mimeo.)

21    AEB to WBF, 28 June – comments on the excellent catalogue and the success of the exhibition; surprised at lack of knowledge of exhibition by ‘Colonial visitors’; full publicity provided ‘all over London’ (tp.)

22    Adrian Digby, Deputy Keeper, British Museum to WBF, 4 Aug. – gives permission to store exhibits in Residence I, BM pending dispersal to owners (tp.)

23    Leon Underwood to WBF, [Aug.] – on the return of his exhibits (autogr.)

2/    Arts Council

1    WBF to Philip James (PJ), Director of Art, British Council, 26 Mar. – informs him of Council’s provisional decision to hold an exhibition of ‘Traditional art of the British Colonies’ in response to the ‘Colonial Month’; would like to discuss the scheme with him (autogr. draft)

2    PJ to WBF, 1 Apr. – interested in the scheme; Festival of Britain in 1951 is being planned; suggests waiting until then when money would be available; could discuss it with him on the 5th (tp.)

3    WBF to PJ, c. 20 Apr. – following their meeting submits RAI’s application for a guarantee against financial loss; gives reasons for holding exhibition; outlines coverage and costs. 4 leaves (autogr.)

4    PJ to WBF, 29 Apr. – informs him the Arts Council has agreed request for a guarantee towards the exhibition (tp.)

5    WBF to PJ, 30 Apr. – expresses thanks on behalf of Council (tpc.)

6    Secretary-General, Arts Council to WBF, 11 May – writes on behalf of his Council to offer guarantee (tp.); WBF’s draft reply, 20 May, on verso (autogr.)

3/    Contributors and selection of pieces

1    Dr Otto W. Samson, Curator, Horniman Museum to WBF, 31 Mar. – unable to lend; arranging small exhibition in the museum (tp.)

2    A.W.F. Fuller to WBF, 2 Apr. – pleased to help in any way as ‘the proposed exhibition is purely scientific and ethnographical’ (autogr.)

3    H.J. Braunholtz, Keeper, Dep. of Ethnography, British Museum to WBF, 28 Apr. – gives message from Mrs B.Z. Seligman (autogr.)

4    Kenneth C. Murray to WBF (via Mrs Fagg, senior), 12 May – will loan the Ekpu figure; his own exhibition will be solely of masks; mentions the loan of other items; lists several queries. 6 pp. (autogr.)

5    Kenneth C. Murray to WBF, 14 May – suggests contacting Nigerian Education Dep. over loan of the Ife terra cotta heads (autogr. pc.); telegram, 18 May, announcing departure of the heads by air not retained

6    Dr E.J. Lindgren to WBF, 16 May – offers to lend a Singapore sarong (autogr.)

7    Ibid., 19 May – regrets her sarong are not decorated (autogr. pc.)

8    WBF to Carl Winter, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 20 May – on arrangements for bringing Mrs B.Z. Seligman’s Benin ivory mask to London (autogr. draft)

9    Carl Winter to WBF, 21 May – will make arrangements for sending the ivory mask (autogr.)

10    Kenneth C. Murray to WBF, 21 May – gives description of a specimen (autogr. pc.)

11    CDF to WBF, 7 June – offers specimen of Yakó carved panelling (tp.)

12    (Prof. Sir) Edmund R. Leach to WBF, 11 June – gives measurements of his specimen (autogr. pc.)

13    List of areas covered and contributors. 4 leaves (autogr.)

14    Rough notes on areas covered and contributors. 12 leaves (autogr.)

4/    Mounting the exhibition

1    Note on material required for background (tp.)

2    WBF to Jute Industries Ltd., Dundee, 11 May – outlines proposed exhibitions; understands the industry might be willing to present the necessary length of jute cloth (autogr. draft)

3    Director, Jute Industries Ltd, to WBF, 25 May – arrangements have been made for the necessary cloth to be supplied (tp.)

4    WBF to Director, Jute Industries Ltd, 30 May – letter of thanks; cloth will be of greatest value in making an impressive exhibition; regrets he does not want acknowledgement to be made in catalogue (autogr. draft)

5    Notes by WBF on position of exhibits (autogr.)

6    Plan of lecture room (ink sketch)

5/    Catalogue

1    WBF to Wm. Clowes & Sons Ltd, Beccles, 27 Apr. – asks if they would estimate for an illustrated catalogue (autogr. draft)

2    Wm. Clowes & Sons Ltd to WBF, 3 May – gives estimate for 1000 copies (tp.)

3    Draft of introduction and acknowledgements by WBF. 9 leaves (autogr. pencil)

4    Ibid., 7 leaves (autogr. ink)

5    Draft of part of the section on Nigeria. 5 leaves (autogr.)

6    Draft of the section on the Federation of Malaya and other sections. 6 leaves (autogr.)

7    Catalogue entries on cards giving title, references, name of lender, instructions to printer, cards 1-130 (no. 52 missing); cards 1-88, i.e. 91; 1 odd card

8    Rough notes. 8 leaves (autogr.)

9    Corrected galley proofs. 8 galleys

6/    Volunteers

1    Hugh Elliot, Colonial Service Club to WBF, 23 May – difficulty of education officers on course to help; suggests he conducts a party round the exhibition; may have time between exams (autogr.)

2    WBF to (Prof. Sir) Edmund R. Leach, [June] – asks if any of his students could help with ‘invigilation’ of the exhibition; outlines dates (autogr. draft)

3    Circular from WBF inviting Fellows to visit the exhibition; asks for volunteers to keep the exhibition open, 17 June (mimeo.)

4    F.H. Angold to RAI, 22 June – offers help; willing to give talk (tp.)

5    Ibid., 13 July – withdraws offer of help; offer to give talk ignored (tp.)

6    Offers of help from: .1, Mrs M.M. Banks (autogr.); .2, (Prof.)Cyril Belshaw (autogr.); .3, Mrs Ellen Ettlinger (letter and pc., autogr.); .4, Mrs Cora B.S. Hodson (autogr.); .5, E.H. Hunt (2 letters, autogr.); .6, A.A. Issa (autogr.); .7, Mrs Jeune Jones (autogr.); .8, Mrs John Jones (autogr.); .9, S.E. Mann (autogr.); .10, Revd Hugh Miller (autogr.); .11, Miss H.M. Rolleston (autogr.); .12, Graham Spry (via W.C.A. Knights, tp.); .13, Miss M.L. Tildesley (autogr.)

7    Rota of volunteers by WBF (autogr.)

8    RAI helpers: guardians, arranging exhibition, exhibitors, publicity, Institute (autogr.)

9    Circular from WBF thanking exhibition guardians; exhibition extended to 4 Aug., asks for further help, 16 July (mimeo.)

10    Ibid., also refers to catalogue, 20 July (mimeo.)

7/    Attendance book

Includes names of volunteers each day, numbers admitted, number of catalogues sold, 22 June-4 Aug.; 2 pencil illus. towards end

8/    Publicity: Press and other invitations, distribution of catalogue and postcards

1    WBF to the Director, Musée du Congo Belge, Tervuren, 17 June – invitation to attend the opening ceremony (autogr. draft)

2    Ibid., (tp.)

3    New Writing to WBF, 17 June – regrets editor is away and cannot attend viewing (tp.)

4    Royal Society of Arts to WBF, 18 June – regrets cannot attend press view; will send a representative (tp.)

5    Editor, Punch, to WBF, 21 June – regret invitation to press view arrived too late (autogr.)

6    WBF to Sir Gerald Kelly, President, Royal Academy, 24 June – invitation to view the new discoveries from Ife (tp.)

7    Sir Gerald Kelly to WBF, 30 June – is delighted to accept invitation (tp.)

8    Dr Charles Singer to RAI, 6 July – inquires about specimen in exhibition (autogr.)

9    Mrs Mary Danielli to WBF, 2 July – Folklore Society would like to review the catalogue; requests a copy and suggestions for reviewer (autogr.)

10    WBF to Mrs Danielli, 28 July – encloses copy; makes some suggestions (autogr.)

11    Information Dep., Colonial Office to WBF, 5 Aug. – thanks him for the leaflets and a copy of the catalogue (tp.)

12    Georges Henri Rivière, Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires, Paris to WBF, 13 Aug. – thanks him for a copy of the catalogue (tp., in French)

13    Mrs Margaret B. Plass to WBF, [Oct.] – orders complete sets of contact prints of Kenneth C. Murray’s exhibition (autogr.)

9/    Publicity: Press notices and reviews, circulation of posters

1    Agence France-Presse, 22 June – review of exhibition by Georges Gallean (corrected tpc.; in French)

2    The Ambassador: the British Export journal for textiles and fashions, 18 July – returns photographs; unable to use them in article (tp.)

3    Art news & review, 13 June – will insert details in next issue (tp.)

4    Belgian marine-railways-tourism, Belgium House, London, 4 July – will distribute posters (tp.)

5    The Burlington magazine, 24 June – reply by Benedict Nicolson, Editor – has inserted notice in July issue; hopes to publish a retrospective review (tp.)

6    The British Museum, 25 July – will put posters in the front hall and north entrance (tp.)

7    Ibid., [June] and 15 June – 2 memos from H.J. Braunholtz – makes suggestion for press viewing and posters (autogr.)

8    The Connoisseur, 27 July – reply by H. Granville Fell, Editor – regrets has not had time to visit the exhibition (tp.)

9    The Cresset Press, 5 May – reply by Dennis Cohen – has a French West African mask he is willing to lend (tpc., tp.)

10    Ibid., 9 June – suggests a meeting with WBF (tp.)

11    Daily Mail, 13 May – as a result of new material, the article will appear to-morrow; requests resumé of Dr Broom’s address (tp., autogr. note)

12    International African Institute, 19 July – posters sent to all UK members; will be inserted in next issue of Africa for overseas members (tp.)

13    National Gallery, London, 30 June – regret has no room to display catalogue (tp.)

14    Nature, 15 June – hope to publish substance of WBF’s letter; will also publish a descriptive account (tp.)

15    Over-seas League, 28 July – will distribute posters (tp.)

16    [Sunday Times]. H.J. Braunholtz to the Editor, 25 July – on Brian Kingslake’s ‘bafflement’ about the Ife bronze heads (tpc.)

17    Ibid. WBF to the Editor, 27 July – ibid. (draft autogr.)

18    Ibid. Ibid. (tpc.)

19    Ibid. Sunday Times to WBF, 28 July – glad to receive his letter; may not have space to include; if space is available would prefer to drop one paragraph (tp., annotated by WBF on verso)

20    Ibid. Dr A. Groeneveld, Amsterdam to WBF, 28 July – has read article on the exhibition; requests posters etc. as he cannot visit it (autogr.)

21    Ibid. Eric Newton to WBF, 30 July – on his own reply to Brian Kingslake’s comments (tp.)

22    Ibid. WBF to the Editor, late July – on the Ife bronzes; refers to Brian Kingslake’s ‘bafflement’ and Eric Newton (autogr. draft; partially incorporated in other letters)

23    [The Times]. WBF to the Editor, 23 June – commends their leading article on the ‘Colonial Month’; draws attention to the social, political and cultural aspects and to the exhibitions at the British Museum, RAI and the display by Kenneth C. Murray of Nigerian masks at the Zwemmer Gallery (tpc.)

24    Ibid. Verrier Elwin to WBF, 29 June – sends his gratitude for his letter to The Times; expresses ‘what I have been trying to say to Governments in India for many years’ (autogr.)

25    Ibid. WBF to the Editor, 1 July – refers to Lyndon Harries’s views; seeks to establish a corrective to paternalistic attitudes to colonial problems (autogr. draft)

26    Ibid. Ibid. (tpc.)

27    Ibid. Hugh Elliot to WBF, 1 July – congratulates him on his refutation of Lyndon Harries’s views and on the exhibition (autogr.)

28    Ibid. D.H.G. Tollemache to WBF, 8 July – much interested in his letter; managed a coffee estate in Kenya; wishes to read all he can; would be grateful for help (tp., autogr. note)

29    Ibid. F. Victor Fisher, Hon. Director and Editor, Society for the Study of Religions to WBF, 11 July – interested in correspondence; mentions exploitation of Africa and the future of Christian Missions; wishes a talk to be given to the Society and asks for an introduction (autogr.)

30    WBF to the Editor, The Observer, c. 10 July – refers to their reproductions of Ife bronze heads and the RAI exhibition; unprecedented opportunity to study ‘this superbly classical style’ (autogr. draft)

10/    Publicity: autograph draft notices by WBF

1    … ‘sixty more Nigerian carvings’ on view

2    The arrival from Nigeria of the Ife terra cotta heads

3    Art treasures from Nigeria: new discoveries at Ife

4    RAI and the exhibition

5    Display of recent anthropological works relating to the British Colonies

6    Letter enclosing a copy of the catalogue

11/    Insurance

1    Policy, 18 June-31 July 1949 (printed, tp.)

2    Ibid., extension to 4 Aug. 1949 (tp.)

12/    Finance

1    Sir John L. Myres to WBF, 3 Apr. – gives guarantee towards cost of printing the larger size of catalogue; supports him on the printing of some of the best plates as postcards (autogr.)

2    Notes by WBF (autogr.)

3    Daily receipts received from viewers (notebook)

4    Expenditure book (accounts book)

13/    Leaflets

1    Colonial Month & Colonial Exhibition, issued by the Colonial Office. 3 leaves (mimeo.)

2    RAI leaflet, Traditional Art of the British Colonies, Early bronze figure of man blowing an ivory horn, from Benin (printed)

3    Ibid., with extension to 4 Aug. printed in red (printed)

4    Notice for Man advertising the Nigerian masks gathered by Kenneth C. Murray at the Zwemmer Gallery and Man itself (autogr. copy for printer)

5    Ibid. (proof)

6    Notice for catalogue in Man (autogr. copy for printer)

7    Ibid. (proof)

8    Colonial Month, London … list of organisations staging special displays and exhibitions …, issued by the Central office of Information (printed)

14/    Postcards

1    WBF’s copy for 6 postcards and their titles (autogr.)

2    Postcard: Ancient terra cotta head from Ife

3    Ibid.: Ivory pendant mask from Benin

4    Ibid.: Early bronze figure of a man blowing on ivory horn, from Benin

5    Ibid.: Carved wooden head representing ‘the elephant’ in a play, from the Ibo tribe, Nigeria

6    Ibid.: Carved wooden ancestor figure from Oron, Ibibio tribe, Nigeria

7    Ibid.: Carved wooden head of a figure, from the New Hebrides Islands of Melanesia

15/    Posters, map

1    Display of recent anthropological works relating to the British Colonies (ink)

2    Traditional Art of the British Colonies, Admission 6d. or with Illustrated Catalogue 2s. (blue ink)

3    Traditional art of the British Colonies [and] Nigerian Masks, The Zwemmer Gallery (printed)

4    Map of Nigeria and the British Cameroons

16/    Art Criticism

1    Art News and Review, 2 July, ‘Primitive art’ by Leon Underwood

2    Der Bund, Berne, 8 Aug., ‘Primitive Kunst’ by Wilhelm Viola

3    Burlington Magazine, Aug., ‘Traditional art of the British Colonies’ by Margaret Plass

4    Crown Colonist, Aug., ‘Londoners made conscious of Colonial Empire’

5    Daily Telegraph, 30 June, ‘African history in sculpture’ by T.W. Earp

6    Daily Worker, 29 June, ‘An African at the Colonial Exhibition’ by Milton Brown

7    Everybody’s [?], – , ‘‘Primitive’ art’ by C.A. Burland

8    The Illustrated London News, 2 July – ‘Newly found terra cotta heads from Ifé’, unsigned

9    Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 15 July, ‘Traditional art of the British Colonies’ by F.H. Andrews

10    The Listener, 14 July – ‘The London Galleries’ by Wyndham Lewis

11    Nature, 30 July – ‘Anthropology and art’ by William Fagg

12    Punch, 10 Aug., ‘The genuine primitive’ by William Gaunt

13    The Spectator, 24 June, ‘Traditional art of the Colonies’ by Derek Hudson

14    Sunday Times, .1, 17 July ‘African sculpture’ by Eric Newton; .2, 7 Aug., ‘Mimetic versus formal’ by Eric Newton; .3, 7 Aug., ‘A Colonial Arts Council’ by Julian Huxley

15    Time and Tide, 9 July, ‘Negro sculpture’ by Maurice Collis

16    The Times, 25 June, ‘Art of the British Colonies’, unsigned; also printed in the Times Weekly Edition, 29 June

17    The Times Educational Supplement, 8 July, ‘Colonial Month in London: a campaign of exhibitions’, unsigned

18    The Universe, – , ‘Colonial art and Catholics’, unsigned

19    West Africa, 8 Oct., ‘West Africa’s lead in Colonial art’ by R.L. Megroz

20    List of periodicals and newspapers carrying reviews, notice and correspondence by WBF (autogr.)

21    ‘Mimetic versus formal’ by WBF in reply to Eric Newton’s article (autogr. draft); see also /14.2 above

17/    Correspondence in the press

1    The Observer, 7 July, ‘West African art’ by William Fagg

2    Sunday Times, .1, 24 July, ‘The Ife bronzes’ by Brian Kingslake; .2, 31 July, ‘The antiquities of Ife’ by Eric Newton; H.J. Braunholtz; William Fagg; .3, 21 Aug., ‘A Colonial Arts Council’ by George G. Thomson; ‘The Ife mystery’ by Webster Plass

3    The Times, .1, 29 June, ‘Colonial art: Africa’s lesson for Europe’ by William Fagg; .2, 1 July, ‘African culture’ by Lyndon Harries; and Kenneth C. Murray; .3, 2 July, ‘African culture’ by Maud Karpeles; .4, 4 July, ‘African tribal culture’ by William Fagg

18/    Press cuttings

Only the following of the many brief mentions in the press have been retained:

1    Evening News, London, .1, 21 June, ‘No offence’; .2, 21 June, ‘Wives who wear masks to punish their husbands’

2    Nigerian Citizen, .1, 1 July, ‘Nigeria’s ancient art now on view in London’; .2, 8 July, ‘The African genius at ‘its finest’’

3    St John’s Evening Telegram, Newfoundland, 20 June, ‘Colonial art’

4    The Times, 22 July, ‘Mr W.O. Oldman’, obituary by WBF

19/    Television

‘Art of the Colonies’ appeared on BBC Television on 4 July; WBF selected, scripted and appeared in person; the producer was A. Miller Jones

1    Sir Geoffrey Grigson to WBF, [June] – will hand his letter to a producer at the BBC (tp.)

2    Leon Underwood to Miss Kimmings, [June] – made a hurried transcription from his notes while her messenger waited; hopes enclosed will be adequate (/3 below)(autogr.)

3    ‘Traditional art of the Colonies’ – script by Leon Underwood (autogr.)

4    Script by WBF. 11 leaves (autogr., 1 tp.)

5    Ibid. 11 leaves (tp., some annotations by WBF)

6    BBC conditions of programme (printed)

20/    Catalogue

1    Catalogue of the exhibition, Traditional art of the British Colonies by WBF. v, 18 pp., 23 plates; marked by WBF for the television programme

W.B. Fagg Papers.