This relief plaque depicting a battle scene is one of the pieces donated to the Museum of Fine Arts by New York collector Robert Owen Lehman.

The Museum of Fine Arts has been given 34 rare West African pieces from a group of works known as the Benin bronzes, marking a dramatic upgrade in a long-neglected area of the museum’s collection.

The 28 bronzes and 6 ivories come from New York collector Robert Owen Lehman, son of the famous American banker, and will go on display late in 2013 in a newly created gallery.

“This is the transformation of our collection,” MFA director Malcolm Rogers said Thursday. “It’s some of the greatest art ever produced in Africa, and it has been poorly represented in our collection. It’s going to really open visitors’ eyes to an extraordinary world.”

The museum did not start collecting African art until 1991 and, before this gift, had only one Benin piece. Though the Benin works are very difficult to acquire today, hundreds of them are held by a few major museums, including the British Museum, Ethnological Museum in Berlin, and Field Museum in Chicago.


Geoff Edgers
Boston Globe