The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Ethiopian Paintings at the Royal Asiatic Society

Author - Alison Ohta


The Royal Asiatic Society has in its possession three small collections of Ethiopian paintings which were donated to the Society between 1968 and 1973 and are interesting examples of twentieth century secular art.

The three oldest paintings were presented in 1983 by David Buxton (d.2003), the noted Ethiopian historian and author of Travels in Ethiopia (1949) and The Abyssinians (1970). One painting which represents the Emperor Menilek’s victory over the Italians at the Battle of Adwa in 1896 was painted c.1925 (gouache on cloth: 102 x 201 cm) and belonged to Lucy Bentinck, cousin of David Buxton, who was the wife of Sir Charles Bentinck who was Minister in Addis Ababa between 1925 and 1929. The other two represent the celebrations at Emperor Menilek’s palace on the occasion of Masqal, or the Feast of the Cross (gouache on cloth: 78.5 x 38.5 cm) and Emperor Haile Selassie’s Chalot or Court of Justice, painted c. 1930 (gouache on cloth: 103 x 136.5 cm).

A collection of five paintings presented in 1983 by Dr. Richard Pankhurst, one of the foremost authorities on Ethiopia, date from the 1960s and represent scenes from daily life and for the most part are painted in oil on canvas. The collection includes two paintings of musicians playing traditional Ethiopian instruments, the masinqo or one-stringed fiddle, the wasint or flute, the kabaro or drum and the malakat and embilta, both wind instruments.

Professor C.F. Beckingham (1914-1998), who had been Professor of Islamic Studies at SOAS and President of the Royal Asiatic Society, presented two paintings in 1968: one representing social and domestic life on Lake Tana (oil on cloth: 69 x 104 cm) and the other a strip cartoon of 44 pictures showing the story of Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon, both painted in about 1965 (oil on cloth: 58.5 x 109.8 cm).

Several of these paintings are in need of reframing as they are mounted on board which is beginning to warp. Others are in need of restoration and as a result the RAS is seeking funds for this work. I wonder if anyone in the Anglo-Ethiopian Society knows of any trusts that would be sympathetic to receiving a proposal for such a project or has any suggestions.

For further information, please contact:
Alison Ohta, Curator, Royal Asiatic Society, 14 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HD

Detail showing Emperor Menelik at the head of his troops with the Empress Taitu, revolver in hand.
Photo - © The Royal Asiatic Society - 2008
Detail showing the Ethiopian and Italian Troops fighting.

Photo - © The Royal Asiatic Society - 2008

First Published in News File Summer 2008

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