The Rielau Collection

Discover the enigmatic masks and figures from the Rielau Collection.

On a visit to Hans Rielau in 2015

»Collecting African art is a challenge for instinct, intuition and intelligence«, Hans Rielau about his private collection (Lots 109 -  249) and collecting by itself. More about the growing of his collection and its sympathic collector can be read here.

Hans Rielau (born 1932) has been collecting for 40 years. Right from the start he bought objects that spontaneously appealed to him, especially in the early years of discovery and acquisition.His collection got »the first contours«, as he called it, as the theoretical background of this art grew in importance for him and he was able to study their inherent aesthetics and assess them for himself. »Step-by-step I had a trained eye and was able, albeit with care and caution, to distinguish between authentic objects and forgeries«.
His collection only developed its true character in the »late period«. In this phase he selected anew, put together new groups and removed objects that didn’t come up to standard. All that remains now is the essence of many years of intense and self-critical examination of African art.

For Hans Rielau it is mainly ibejis, Lukwa Congo masks from the Lega, Kifwebe masks from the Luba, and house and personal fetishes from the Songye that make his collection (Lots 109 - 249) so personal and distinctive. There is no overall cross section of Africa art as in many African art collections at that time but focuses on variations of individual genres that he knew from the collections of Baselitz and Arman. »My concept in collecting african art oriented itself also on this major collections«.

From the stylistic point many of the sculptures in his collection are selected for their intrinsic delicacy. One senses Hans Rielau’s graphics background. »It paved the way to tribal art«. He donated this collection of contemporary art graphics from the 1950s and 60s to the city museums in Aschaffenburg.

»Collecting African art is a challenge for instinct, intuition and intelligence.«
Hans Rielau, Vereinigung der Freunde afrikanischer Kunst e.V., 2008 in Göttingen, Germany

It was a photography book that his mother gave to him during a stay in hospital in the 1960s that ignited his passion for African art. The book, published in 1958, was »Die afrikanische Plastik« from Elisofon with text by William Fagg. With all their variations it was the miniature masks that fascinated him the most - first of all the Dan and later numerous other tribes.

He bought his first genuine objects from Werner Fischer, collector, dealer, and renowned expert on the art of Cameroon who passed away in 2013 at the age of 91.
That many of his objects are from the DR Congo is due to his close friendship with the recently deceased dealer Peter Loebarth (1941-2015). He brought him in contact with miniatures that were difficult to obtain on the European market; miniatures that rival the quality of their larger »brothers«. A positive side effect for Hans Rielau was that they needed little space and the risk of forgeries was minimal.
In the early 1970s and at 40 years of age Hans Rielau was one of the youngest African-collectors in Germany. In 1973 some of his objects were published in K.F. Schädlers »African Art in Private German Collections«. The book was the first publication that ever dealt with major African collections in Germany.

»I live close to them in a friendly and familiar way. What remains is the magic, the incomprehensible and the appeal of the non-decipherable.«

Whoever knows the sympathetic collector Hans Rielau will appreciate his analytical judgement and sensitivity that he attributes to African art. Ever curious, he had a desire to discover the secret essence of these 'enigmatic' works. Even so »beyond their shape and appearance they remain inaccessible and mysterious to me«. An acknowledgment that he seems reconciled with after 40 years of collecting, »I live close to them in a friendly and familiar way«. What remains today for the 84-year-old collector is the magic, the incomprehensible and the appeal of the non-decipherable as well as a small special collection of Ada-figures and maternity sculptures.