The Collection

Home Page > Works > Uli


Northern New Ireland



Person cited Roland Tual


Impressive ancestral effigy for the worship of Uli, 19th century.

Ancestral effigy for the worship of Uli: anthropomorphic hermaphroditic figure standing upright, arms at sides, hands on hips. The face is concave-convex. On the head sits a tall headdress-crest shaped like a double feather tucked into a skull-cap, which is etched in a chessboard pattern. The face is painted with a black pigment around the eyes which circles around the edge of the chin. The eyes are set in deep sockets and are made of mother of pearl or cowrie sea shells (cypraea) dotted with pupils made of turbo opercula. The hooked nose curves onto a wide mouth which moulds with the lower part of the face, narrow teeth appear between the lips. Two protruding ears with distended and perforated lobes frame the skull at temple level. The heavy oval-shaped chin is bordered by a chin strap beard made of fiber and resin. Fixed to it is a carved braid engraved with chevron. This braid extends to the waist and attaches to an ornamental band that girdles the torso and continues down to the hip band. The conic breasts rise from the arc of each shoulder. The cylindrical torso is touched with pigments and sits on strong hips and short legs with wide-toed feet. The pubis is engraved in a ribbed diamond-shaped fan above a circumcised and erect penis. The strong hands seem to be clamped to the lower body, and the fingers are curved. The back is covered with a thick scabby carbon black patina and is carved with a wide vertical perforated handle. Upper and lower limbs are adorned with wrist and ankle bracelets carved in relief.

In 1964 André Breton relinquished his famous De Chirico painting, le Cerveau de l'enfant, a major work of the painter, which he had kept for most of his life. He sold this painting as a gesture of disgust rather than out of a real financial need as De Chirico had slandered the surrealist group and particularly Breton. The presence of the painting in the Atelier of Rue Fontaine had become a living reminder of the controversial figure of its creator, and thus an annoyance. Yet, it was deemed good fortune, for at that time, the great Uli belonging formerly to Roland Tual, was put on the market and Breton was able to purchase it. Breton had originally seen the effigy in February 1930 at the Paris auction house, Hôtel Drouot, and had since that time, hoped to acquire it. Finally, with the money he obtained from the sale of the De Chirico painting he purchased the object he so desired for 35 years. Breton had written previously about the figure in his famous poem “Uli” for the catalogue of the


exhibition at Andrée Olive gallery in 1948. A masterpiece was therefore replaced by another one which in turn would watch over the poet's writing desk, and inspire his pen.

Stylistically, this Uli is classical, comparable, inter alia, to the one of Walter Bondy's collection reproduced by Adolphe Basler in 1929 in L'Art chez les Peuples Primitifs, p.75, an object Breton knew well and which is certainly of the same artist and the same time, at the beginning of the 19th century. Except for the position of the arms, both statues are almost twins, with the same intense look, and the same heavily shaped face.

Commenting the Uli of the former Alain Schoffel collection, Michael Gunn describes in the catalogue Sculpture (Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2000, p. 291), the role of these “objects”; “Uli statues represented ancestors with the power and strength indispensable for a clan leader. The ideal clan leader is aggressive and strong, but he also feeds his people; so, the feminine breast represented fecundity, preparing to feed the coming generations.” This specific commentary is perfectly consistent with André Breton’s poem. Uli reigns supreme on the primitive pantheon of rue Fontaine.

To be sure, you are a great god
I saw you with my eyes like no other
You are still covered with the dirt and blood you just created
We see that you are filled with the stuff to your ears
You hear no longer
you leer at us from the depths of a seashell
Your creation prostrates us and you menace us still
You instill fear, you enthrall
(André Breton, Océanie, Paris, préface d'André Breton, introduction F. H. Lem, Galerie Andrée Olive, 1948.) [catalogue de vente, 2003] (English translation by Christina Rudosky)


- William Rubin, Primitivism in XXth century art - Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1984, rep. p. 113.
- Paris, Musée national d'art moderne - Centre Georges Pompidou, André Breton, la beauté convulsive, 1991, rep. p. 428
- Yves Le Fur (dir.), D'un regard l'autre, Histoire des regards européens sur l'Afrique, l'Amérique et l'Océanie, Paris, Musée du Quai Branly/Réunion des Musées nationaux, 2006, p. 312, rep. p. 313.
- Germain Viatte, Tu fais peur tu émerveilles, Musée du Quai-Branly, acquisitions 1998/2005, Musée du Quai-Branly/Réunion des Musées nationaux, Paris, 2006, p. 43
- Musée de Cahors Henri-Martin, La Maison de verre André Breton initiateur découvreur, Paris, Éditions de l'Amateur, 2014, rep. p. 97, décrit p. 96-98


Manipuler l'objet en tous sens

Archives de la vente aux enchères

Breton, une collection qui a du chien, article de Christina Rudosky

Trouver l'objet dans la collection d'André Breton

Creation dateXIXe siècle
Physical descriptionHaut : 125 cm (49 1/4 in.)
Socle Inagaki : 3.2 x 38.6 x 30.5 cm
Bois, nacre, opercule de turbo, pigments rouges, noirs et blancs
Ancienne étiquette de vente n° 218 à l'arrière du pied droit
Accidents aux pieds, restauration au lobe de l'oreille droite
From / ProvenanceAncienne collection Roland Tual, Paris, étude Lair-Dubreuil, expert André Portier, vente les 9-11 février 1930, n° 33 du catalogue, rep. planche 1. Breton a acquis cet UIi en 1964 à l'hôtel Drouot.
Place of origin

BRT MOA183 (ancienne cote BRT MO 166)

Method of acquisition and collectionDon Aube et Oona Elléouët à la Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques-Doucet, Paris, 2003, dépôt au Centre Pompidou, 2015
Size125,00 x 33,00 x 32,00 cm
Breton Auction, 2003Lot 6130
Keywords, , , , ,
CategoriesEtnographical Art, Melanesian Art, Oceanian, Ppolynesian, Melanesian Art
Set[Exhibitions] 1991, boîte archives bleue, Beaubourg, [Multimédia] Objets à manipuler
ExhibitionsAndré Breton, La Beauté convulsive , André Breton, The House Of Glass , Océanie , Ventes Hôtel Drouot 1917 - 1966
Permanent link
Exhibition places

See also

1 Work

Coiffe cérémonielle kwakwaka’wakw


Parure cérémonielle d'Amérique du Nord placée sur le bureau, face à André Breton.
Quatre images, une notice descriptive, une bibliographie.