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Bentwood box with broadly painted primary lines and subtle secondary elements - Donald Ellis Gallery
Side view of a painted bentwood box with broadly painted red design elements - Donald Ellis Gallery
Backside of a bentwood box painted with highly innovative design elements - Donald Ellis Gallery
Side view of a painted bentwood box with red design elements - Donald Ellis Gallery

Bentwood Chest

Haisla or Coast Tsimshian
Central or Northern Coast, British Columbia

ca. 1840-1860

red cedar, red turban snail opercula

height: 17"
width: 28"
depth: 19"

Inventory # N4387


acquired by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON


Reportedly JJ Klejman Gallery, New York, NY
Private collection, New York, NY
Private collection, California


Please see the attached report by Steven C. Brown who identifies the following bent-corner chests to be by the same Haisla or Coast Tsimshian artist:

Museum of Northern British Columbia, Prince Rupert, BC, Cat. no. n/a - collected at Koksilah, British Columbia

UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Los Angeles, CA, Cat. no. n/a – See: McClelland Bill and Duffek, Karen. The Transforming Image. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000, pg. 167. pl. 6.24A

This exceptional painted chest is a recent discovery attributed to a currently unidentified master artist from the Northwest coast of Canada. The large central design field seen here is occupied by the head and body of Gonakadeit, a powerful spirit of the undersea world who was invoked to protect the contents of the chest from intrusion by the uninitiated or less powerful. The stylized designs on bentwood boxes and chests generally follow a highly conventionalized format before the second half of the eighteenth century. In the subject chest, the artist rendered a classic design composition in an unprecedentedly innovative way. Broad black brushstrokes frame the head and cascade down from the shoulders, gracefully swooning upwards as they meet the bottom of the chest. In a highly unusual way, these lines become almost a background on which the hands of the main image are directly painted in red. The typically broad black primary lines of eighteenth-century designs are combined here with the delicacy and detail of thin mid-nineteenth-century secondary elements in red. An outstanding mastery of the complex design systems of Northwest Coast art allowed this artist to produce some of the most creative and inspired interpretations of traditional painted chest designs. The fineness of the linework and compositional integrity are exceptional in execution, indicating a master artist whose brush skills were as well developed as his compositional ideas and innovations. 

Works by the same hand are in a number of distinguished museums and private collections, including the Glenbow Museum, Museum of Northern British Columbia, the Royal British Columbia Museum and the University of California, Los Angeles.

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