An Old African Hermaphrodite
2009 SOLD 530 K$ including premium
Tropical Africa is a moist continent, not conducive to the conservation of objects. The remainings of ancient civilizations are scarce.
It will be noted in the sale of Sotheby's in New York on May 15 a wooden figure from Mali for which a carbon-14 dating provides an age of six to nine centuries. So it was created before the European explorations and before the installation of the Dogons in the region where it was found. Bernard de Grunne gives that ancient tribe the name Soninke.
Its long-term conservation is due to its presence in a cave, safe from rodents, insects and men, in an area of cliffs that had remained dry. The character, 76 cm high, is a bearded figure with male sex and female chest. This synthesis of man and woman is a symbol of perfection.
This old hermaphrodite waits for 400 K $, lot 9.
Coming back to the Sotheby's figure. It is very exciting to know that it is in wood and well preserved. It comes much later than Nok culture (but was possibly influenced by it ?). Some terracottas are also remnant of that culture. De Grunne named this culture Soninke but another scholar name it Djennenke. De Grunne counted circa 40 statuary works from this culture. Many of them were probably hidden in a cave when invaders (Dogons ?) came.
The fact that few artefacts remain from a nearly totally lost culture does not mean that such a culture was poor.
POST SALE COMMENT
Bizarre and old, and witnessing a vanished culture. Sold $ 530 K costs included, this figure has exceeded its estimate.
ca 1500 An Afro Portuguese Ivory
2008 SOLD 1.3 M€ including premium
The African antiquities are very rare, because the wood does not resist the excesses of climate, and tribal people manipulated little metal. Fortunately the elephants provided their ivory.
This salt cellar of 20 cm high was created in Sierra Leone 500 years ago, at the time of Portuguese travellers. In beautifully carved ivory, it is composed of a main striped ovoid part linked by four caryatids to a ring shaped base. The fineness of representation and the realism of these four characters, two men and two women, are remarkable.
The estimate is very open: 50% between the low and high figures. This confirms that this object is exceptional.
POST SALE COMMENT
1.3 M € fees included. There's nothing to say other than admire the quality of the object and the result of its sale. Bravo to Sotheby's.
17th century - portrait of a rainmaker
The royal city is huge with many buildings. The galleries of the palace are covered with rectangular bronze plaques which remind the Edo traditions and history. The names of the successive Oba and the approximate dates of their reigns have been recorded and their heads sculpted in the round are the masterpieces of ancient African art.
This 'bronze' denomination assigned by early explorers has been retained but it is metallurgically incorrect. It is instead a brass. The artworks were executed by using a technique of lost wax casting developed long time before the first contact with the Portuguese that occurred around 1485. This remarkable discovery provides the evidence of an advanced technology in this continent too long considered as primitive by the Christians.
The production of these images spans over more than five centuries. The composition of the alloy and its conservation cannot be homogeneous over such a long period. The theme and style have however barely changed : war scenes, portraits of characters from the court. This extraordinary native collection was dispersed by a British punitive expedition in 1897.
On November 24 in Paris (Drouot), Binoche et Giquello sell an Edo plaque from Benin kingdom 47 x 21 cm in great condition, lot 16 estimated € 600K. It is dated by the catalog in the seventeenth century of our calendar which undoubtedly represents a culmination of this art. Here is the link to the auction house's website.
The standing figure is very finely carved, with the robe of a rainmaker priest and the pointed headdress of a member of the royal family. Clothing and background are decorated with geometric patterns.
#SaveTheDate : une vente prestigieuse d'Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie le 24 novembre chez Binoche et Giquello. https://t.co/9PGP7b0Ymr pic.twitter.com/4fOxeleWX6— Drouot (@Drouot) October 21, 2016
the primordial twins from bandiagara
2017 sold for $ 1.2m including premium
A Soninke hermaphrodite sold for $ 530K including premium by Sotheby's on May 15, 2009 marks an archaic tendency to personify on a single individual the male strength and the female fertility.
The Dogons came later. On May 19 in New York, Christie's sells a 39 cm high wooden statuette attributed to the Dogon N'Duleri cultural entity influenced by their more archaic neighbors the Djennenke, lot 6 estimated $ 1.5M. Its age is estimated between 360 and 190 years.
This figure is a twin maternity. The Dogons believed that the primordial man named Nommo multiplied himself through four pairs of mythical twins. The fertile woman with salient breasts is kneeling in an attitude of respect applied in the Djennenke funeral ceremonies. The two babies are on her laptop and scrutinize the future each one on his own side.
Le 19 mai a lieu une vente de 12 chefs-d’œuvre de l’art traditionnel africain chez Christie’s à New-York #Dogon https://t.co/TL3T1ryUU6 pic.twitter.com/RS87hBADIN— Christie's Paris (@christiesparis) May 15, 2017
Erosion of the Ancestors
2018 sold for € 1.93m including premium
In the rainforest the wood rots. Yet some works of Nigeria's Mbembe ethnic group have been preserved by a mechanism close to fossilization that affected unequally the hard and soft fibres of the wood. These figures have reached in three or four centuries a cracked texture that reinforces the impression of an erosion.
This art was unknown in Europe in 1972 when Hélène Kamer-Leloup bought a statuette to a Malian merchant. She obtained in all by this provenance eleven pieces from this culture that she exhibited in her gallery in Paris in 1974.
Luckily the existence of a complete piece preserved at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin makes it possible to know the global configuration and the use of this art. It is a monumental drum made of hollowed wood. Flanked by two side platforms occupied respectively by the statuettes of a warrior and of a mother, it is 3.30 m wide overall.
In the corpus of this Mbembe art the man is aggressive, sometimes standing. The woman is sitting on the floor with her knees raised, with or without a child on her lap. Her attitude is proud or perhaps prayerful, with the chin slightly raised.
A female figure 75 cm high from the original Kamer-Leloup collection is estimated € 2M for sale by Christie's in Paris on June 27, lot 72. The limbs are missing beyond elbows and knees but the head has kept accurate morphological details.
the spirit of the baule woman
2016 sold for $ 2.4m including premium
The art of ancient Africa had a hermaphrodite figurative tradition. They had to communicate with the spirits of the ancestors for their auspices but these emanations were hardly identified, we easily understand why ! It was necessary to catch their power without impairing the fertility.
The Baoulé (Baule) art of Ivory Coast offers this duality. A highly important dual male-female mask whose interpretation remains debatable was sold for € 5.4 million including premium by Sotheby's on June 24, 2015.
On May 12 in New York, Christie's sells a Baoulé standing female figure 50 cm high, lot 605 estimated $ 2M. It is built with a rigorous geometry resembling nested cylinders for the tall neck and the limbs along with a mesmerizing lunar face in slight recession.
These unusual characteristics anticipate the stylization that will be one of the characteristics of this art. It is understood by oral tradition that the spirit figures of the neighboring ethnic groups disappeared by iconoclasm during the tribal wars but the hypothesis of a reciprocal influence should not be dismissed.
By an extraordinary coincidence this woman figure has a male counterpart so close in style that it has certainly been carved by the same artist. This figure of a seated man was given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Nelson Rockefeller in 1969 and their common author is now identified as the Rockefeller Master. No other opus is comparable to these two figures.
When they are viewed side by side the man and the woman are very similar even in their morphology, distinguishable by the beard and the sex but not by the breasts which are almost atrophied in both cases. Emerging from the hermaphrodite representation that had been blurring the mystical message the Baoulé sorcerers went to communicate with the beyond through the intercession of pairs of separate statuettes.
benin type 4 - The Head of a Powerful Oba
2017 sold for € 1.87m including premium
The so-called bronze of Benin is actually an alloy closer to a brass using a technique of lost-wax casting developed before any contact with Europeans. It is divided into two very different styles of works, the plaques that commemorate events or dignitaries and the heads in the round of the Oba kings. It is helpful to study these two categories together to establish the chronology of this art.
The heads are not portraits but ideal figurations of the previous Oba kings of the reigning dynasty. These figures are dedicated to devotion as altarpieces.
Philip Dark describes five overlapping phases along with more detailed groups. The 24 cm high Oba head sold on May 17, 2007 by Sotheby's for $ 4.7M including premium over a lower estimate of $ 1M is a Type 3 Group 2A created between 1575 and 1625 CE.
On December 12 in Paris, Sotheby's sells a Type 4 head of Oba 32 cm high, lot 67 estimated € 600K. Compared to the head of the previous sale, power symbols and mystic symbols appear in high relief on the headdress and on the base added for that purpose.
The cylindrical collar that rises up to the lips is composed of 33 rings of metal pearls compared to the 22 rings of the other head, explaining the difference in total height and probably attributing a higher importance of this Type 4 king.
this Benin commemorative head (17th-18th century) goes under the hammer at Sotheby's Paris tomorrow. Estimate: $707,214 - 1,060,821. pic.twitter.com/TCyqIkupRk— Pete Cullen (@peterpcullen) December 11, 2017
1750-1800 The Skull Head in Kota Art
For nearly 200 years, these reliquary figures respond to the same general model : the oval face centered in a roughly circular frame is surmounted by a wide crescent-shaped horizontal headdress. The base is a hollowed lozenge symbolizing fertility. A neck separates these two parts.
A dozen pieces of very skillful workmanship were made by the same hand, identified as the Master of the Sébé river which is a tributary of the Ogooué. They have the very innovative feature of combining the convexity of the forehead with the concavity of eye cavity and chin of a skull. The ornamentation is embellished with metal strips.
De Grunne considers that this master was active around 1750 to 1800 CE. This date appears so old that his art could well constitute the prototypes of this new artefact. Over the years the design has varied, achieving a geometric simplification that has greatly influenced the modern European art. The Rubin specimen was sold for € 5.5M including premium by Christie's on June 23, 2015.
A reliquary figure 54 cm high from the corpus of the Master of Sébé was sold for $ 1.22M including premium by Sotheby's on November 13, 2017. Another one in a similar size is estimated € 700K for sale by Sotheby's in Paris on December 12, lot 162.
Murray Frum’s African Sculptures Lead Sotheby’s Paris Sale https://t.co/oyvUvknQ13 pic.twitter.com/jIZmyKf0d9— Art Market Monitor (@artmarket) November 19, 2018
<1835 THE RIDING KING OF OYO
Located in present-day Nigeria, the Oyo Empire of the Yoruba ethnic group was one of the most powerful and best organized in Africa, before collapsing in 1835 in our calendar. A unique feature of the Yoruba was to honor their artists on a par with their magicians.
On June 18 in Paris, Sotheby's sells a Yoruba cup of divination with caryatids. This important piece, 30 cm high and 24 cm in diameter, is both a carving of high quality and a complex symbolic scene. During the ceremonies, the cupcontained the palm nuts used by a juggler.
This sculpture bears the symbols of power, strength and fertility. The central figure is a majestic bearded rider with the attributes of the king of Oyo. He is supported on each side by a fierce warrior followed by a nude woman carrying a child. This very rare group can be read like a real court scene.
This piece is in very good condition despite an age that can exceed two centuries. Sotheby's presents it as a masterpiece of African art. Here is the link to the catalog.
1830S FRIENDSHIP OF CHEYENNE AND SIOUX
2011 SOLD 340 K$ INCLUDING PREMIUM
The war shirts of the chiefs are among the most prestigious pieces of Native American art. On May 18, Sotheby's sold$ 2.65 million including premium an Oglala Sioux shirt in superb condition with fresh colors, which had the advantage of an undeniable provenance documented by photographs made in 1899.
The highlight of the Ben Bones collection is a Cheyenne shirt made probably in the 1830s in mountain sheep hide. It is richly decorated with porcupine quills arranged in a rosette on both sides of the garment and in fringes on the sleeves.
By tradition of its former owner, the shirt would have been collected from the Sioux chief Spotted Tail in 1868. Sioux and Cheyenne were allies in the Indian wars, and exchanges of gifts between the two communities were certainly usual.
On December 5 by Bonhams in San Francisco, the Southern Oregon Historical Society is selling as a single lot the Bones collection, considered not separable and estimated $ 300K. Besides the Cheyenne shirt, illustrated in the press release shared by Antique Trader, this set includes a tobacco bag, a pipe, arrows and other artifacts.
The main reason given for not separating is the assumption that modern scientific analysis (including DNA testing) will help to further study the origin of the shirt.
POST SALE COMMENT
This original collection was sold at a reasonable price: $ 280K hammer, 340K including premium.
<1840 THE MOHAWK SHIRT
Twenty-five years ago, a treasure was found in an abbey in Scotland. The trunk which was opened contained garments and pouches from the Indians of North America. On December 14 in San Francisco, Bonhams and Butterfieldsauctions a beautiful piece unveiled by this discovery.
It is a buckskin shirt, decorated with three large stenciled radiant sun motifs, one in front side, and one above another in the back. The sleeves are equipped with large fringes. The cloth appears to be in very good condition, probably due to its prolonged stay in hiding. The image is shared by the Vancouver Sun.
For expertising such a lot, beware of dead tracks! The auction house seconds the hypothesis of a Mohawk origin, at a date which could be prior to 1840. There is nothing like it, either in museums or in private collections. 200K $ are expected.
<1850 NAVAJO AND THEIR SHEEP
2013 SOLD 220 K$ INCLUDING PREMIUM
The beginning of Navajo textile art has its roots in the 17th century, when Spanish settlers brought their beasts in the region of the Rio Grande. Spanish sheep wonderfully adapted to the somehow difficult climate.
Navajos are excellent breeders who have been able to improve that breed. Identified as the navajo-churro, thesesuperb animals produce a dense wool with very long fibers whose color changes with age.
The Navajo learned weaving through hostile contacts with their Pueblo neighbors who used vertical looms for weavingin strips.
Between 1820 and 1850, the Navajo textile art is experiencing a spectacular development, with their blanketsdecorated by parallel strips in three colors of varying widths. Ivory and dark brown were made of raw wool, and bluewas obtained by indigo dye.
An artistic refinement is added (probably towards the end of that period), with very thin red lines obtained by undoingSpanish clothing tainted in cochineal dye. Known as bayeta first phase chief's blankets, they are masterpieces of textile art.
One of these rare bayeta blankets, 171 x 141 cm, was sold for $ 1.8 million including premium on 19 June 2012 in California by John Moran Auctioneers, multiplying by 15 the lower estimate.
On May 21, Sotheby's in New York sells a similar specimen with a conservative estimate of $ 200K. Comparing the photos led to believe that both pieces were woven with the same loom settings and the same dyes.
Navajo chiefs used to wrap their body in the blanket for the most prestigious ceremonies, and such use as a garment suggests that the dimensions were standardized. While waiting for the catalog to confirm the size, here is the link to the press release issued and shared by AP.
Another blanket, 170 x 132 cm, is estimated $ 400K, for sale by Cowan's in Cincinnati on April 5. It is an almost identical model, with a slightly different configuration of the middle lines. Here is the link to the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENTS
The blanket presented by Cowan's is unsold.
At Sotheby's, the Navajo blanket, 170 x 135 cm, was sold $ 220K including premium.
1877 The War Shirt of Chief Joseph
2012 SOLD 880 K$ including premium
In their next sale on July 21 in Reno, the lot with the top estimate, $ 800K, is neither a painting nor a sculpture but the war shirt of an Indian chief.
Around 1877, relations between Native Americans and whites are violent and ambiguous. Chief Joseph, the second of that name, was using the name of his Christianized father, who had been baptized. He tried in vain to protect the territory of his tribe, the Nez Perce, against decisions of the federals.
His war shirt is typical, very colorful, shaped like a poncho with fringes and beadworks. It is made of two pieces of skin, probably of a deer. It appeared without attribution about twenty years ago and was authenticated through a photo taken just after the capture of Joseph in 1877.
The correlation with a photo is a major asset for this type of cloth. It helped to push up to $ 2.65 million including premium the shirt of Sioux chief Black Bird, at Sotheby's on May 18, 2011. Yet this one was later: in 1899, tourism had superseded the heroic times. Before the sale, the Sioux shirt had been estimated $ 250K.
Masterpieces of Native American textile art are highly sought, and this is certainly a good decision to sell the shirt of Chief Joseph in the Great West. At Pasadena on June 19, John Moran sold $ 1.8 million including premium a rare Navajo blanket weaved before 1870, which had been estimated $ 100K.
POST SALE COMMENT
The result, $ 750K hammer price, did not reach the estimate but is still very good as this shirt is less sumptuous than Black Bird's garment reminded above as the top reference.
The auction fetched $ 17M including premium.
It is interesting to note that the top result, $ 850K hammer, 980K including premium, rewards this time a contemporary artwork: Scout's report, oil on canvas 80 x 120 cm painted in 1988 by Howard Terpning.
The photo of the shirt is shared post sale by Artdaily. The price including premium is $ 880K.
<1897 MAYOMBE FERTILITY
On January 19 in Brussels, Native sells a fertility statuette from the Mayombe region. 34 cm high, it was collectedbefore 1897 by a Belgian topographer in this country that was still the Etat Indépendant du Congo, personal propertyof King Leopold II.
Such maternities are a specialty of the Yombe ethnic group. Thay are all designed on a similar theme known as phemba or pfemba. The mother is sitting cross-legged on a base, in a very straight attitude. Wearing a loincloth and a high cap, she protects the infant sleeping on her lap without looking at him.
This wooden statue is beautifully carved with a pleasant realism. The mirrored glass eyes and the chin up are offeringan expression of mystical expectation which is not so common in the phembas.
The Yombe art is especially known for its nail fetishes. Without any metal, carved ornaments shaped as nail headscompletely cover the shoulders and the back of the mother.
This fertility fetish is estimated over € 80K. Here is the link to the site of the auction house.
Collected < 1900 The Spirit of the Sacred Flute
2010 SOLD 2.1 M$ including premium
Being removable, the wusears are presented without the flutes. One of them is on sale at Sotheby's in New York on May 14.
It is a male figure 49 cm high, with a disproportionate head. The rugged features are embellished with many ornaments made of various shells and of human teeth and hair, including tiara, earrings and nose jewelry. To this height, we must add a rich cap for which the cassowaries have offered their feathers.
This piece was collected before 1900 on the banks of a tributary of the Sepik River. It was known among the Dadaist circles. The variety, originality and expressiveness of the Papuan art has fascinated Western intellectuals at the time when modern art was looking for new trends and new influences. The estimate of $ 1 million is justified by this comment and by the good condition of the lot.
POST SALE COMMENT
Expressive, old, known, made for a well described use: the piece had it all: $ 2.1 million including premium.
king and queen in cameroon
2015 sold for € 1.44m including premium
All the kings of the current dynasty and their first queen are represented by a statue around 1 m tall. Their names and chronology were piously preserved and Christol makes them aligned for a photograph. This staging will stay untouched for more than three decades until the group is exported and dispersed.
These statues designed for the celebration of the royal couple were executed early in the reigns and thus represent an extremely rare case of African royal figures carved in the early lifetime of the models and which may be considered as portraits.
The statue of the eighth king, carved in the 1880s, makes a progress in its figuration, with much dignity and some effort for realism. It was sold for € 735K including premium by Sotheby's on 24 June 2015.
The couple constituted by the ninth king named Pokam, who died in 1919, and his queen consort Yugang has not been separated. These portraits may have been carved by the same artist as for the eighth king but the proportions in bodies and faces are more carefully achieved and the expression is superb. The woman is carrying a newborn child on her arm.
The statues of Pokam and Yugang remain together at lot 14, estimated € 1.3M by Sotheby's in Paris on December 2.
La collection Delenne arrive chez @SothebysFr découvrez les pièces phares du 8 au 12 octobre http://t.co/QJHeVy4fpR pic.twitter.com/F5UKlCYmbv— Sotheby's France (@SothebysFr) September 3, 2015
1900 SHOSHONE DANCES
The American Indians have lost the war. The Shoshone bore in the Wyoming reserves where the Federals have contained them. By 1900, their art expresses their traditions, with nostalgia.
On September 9 in Cincinnati, Cowan's sells a tanned elk skin painted by the artist Cadzi Cody. In excellent condition with vibrant colors, this artwork is estimated $ 100K. The catalog page is shared by the auction house.
Vignettes showing the buffalo hunt decorate the entire surface, 180 x 170 cm overall. In the middle of the picture,men are dancing in front of teepees. The Sun Dance will be outlawed in 1904.
The art of Indian tribes is a market of connoisseurs, where customers often ignore the estimates of the auction houses. The best recent example is the deer skin shirt with which a famous Oglala Sioux chief was photographed in 1899. Estimated $ 250K, it was sold $ 2.65 million including premium by Sotheby's on May 18, 2011.
1913 DAT SO LA LEE WAS A BASKET WEAVER
The identified artistic career of Dat So La Lee extends from 1895 until her death, very old, in 1925. It provides the earliest and best example of successful collaboration between an American Indian artist (she was a pure Washoe) and a businessman who marketed her work (his name was Abe Cohn).
As a good merchant, Cohn recorded precisely the products he sold, but most of such records were lost. Opinions differ entirely from the shameless exploitation of a great artist to a healthy collaboration. The truth must as always be between the two, but the recognition of the work is attested by the inscription on the tomb of the artist.
Her baskets are executed with great skill, both in form and decoration, always consisting of a set of evenly distributed small abstract patterns.
One of them, estimated 175 K$, will be for sale at Sotheby's in New York on May 20. Collected in 1913, it is 16 cm high, with a swollen belly. The press release from the auction house said that no work of Dat So La Lee went at auction for nearly 20 years.
Fang Reliquary Figure
2013 SOLD for € 1.45M by Sotheby's
The date of their collection in Africa is not known, but these works are fairly accurately attributed to the Betsi population of the right bank of the Gabon River. The Vénus Pahouine, currently preserved at the Musée Dapper, is admirable for the accuracy of proportions, the beauty of shapes and carvings and the tranquility of expression.
A male figure 57 cm high It is one of these four major works. It was sold for € 1.45M from a lower estimate of € 500K by Sotheby's on December 11, 2013. Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's.
This ancestor is intelligent, with the prominent and perfect sphere of his forehead. He listens to living people with his wide ears and his sulky mouth reflects his seriousness. The hands are joined to hold an offering cup.
This artwork was created more than one hundred years ago. The artist was obviously anonymous, which does not prevent to consider him as a master. Comparisons on the style and attitude of the body led to identify other statuettes made in the same workshop.
This remark is promising for the knowledge and understanding of African art. Indeed, the connoisseurs who found some unity of style in the Cycladic idols of the Schuster Master or much earlier in the paintings of Mathias Grünewald or of the Master of Flémalle have also started their expertise by comparing some specific features.
<1925 From Ivory Coast to Picasso
2013 SOLD 1.45 M$ including premium
Young intellectuals of the 1920s who endeavour to revolutionize art and literature rely on the expression or interpretation of the psyche. The study and ownership of pieces of tribal art feed the thoughts of many of them, although the public is more attentive to their provocations.
In 1925, the year after the Manifeste du Surréalisme, Breton's purchases are increasing. A photo made in his studio features a Baule buffalo head wooden mask, for which the details and date of collection are not known but that will have a significant influence on modern art.
Breton is close to Picasso and Picasso enjoys the masks. Breton is also an art courtier who was instrumental in 1924 in the purchase of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Doucet.
The Baule buffalo is acquired by Picasso. This is one of his favorite works of tribal art and he kept it until his death. He entered afterwards the Krugier collection and is estimated $ 500K, for sale by Christie's in New York on November 4. Here is the link to the catalog.
Pablo was much inspired by this procession mask. The animal contributes to interfere with the spirits, and his wide open mouth revealing a very long conical tongue is very expressive.
This buffalo is undoubtedly the model for the tortured horse of Guernica. At the left of the horse, the bull's head of Guernica is reduced to a mask.
POST SALE COMMENT
This mask of an African buffalo had its right place in a sale of international modern art. It was sold for $ 1.45 million including premium.
collected 1929 - the woman from lake sentani
To pay his heavy debts to the gallery owner Pierre Loeb, the traveler Jacques Viot visits this area in 1929 and collects what remains from these ravages : wooden figures and bark clothes. These artifacts sent to Paris complete the tribal iconography appreciated by Loeb's clients. The elongated figures scraped slightly in the round from a straight piece of trunk or branch excited the connoisseurs of Modigliani and inspired Max Ernst and Jacob Epstein.
On May 15 in New York, Sotheby's sells a 103 cm high female statue from Lake Sentani whose crude figurative stylization is particularly effective and appealing. It is estimated $ 1M, lot 29. The legs are slightly apart without the inner part being hollowed out. One hand has six fingers, we will never know why.
Before bringing it to France, Viot took care to photograph it on site, proudly displayed by two Papuans beside a slightly taller male statue.
The lower part of the female figure keeps some traces for hooking. It could be the upper piece of a post whose lower piece was the other figure in Viot's photo. The Papuan mysticism encouraged to raise their eyes to the sky when revering the ancestors and regarded Lake Sentani as the home of the rainbow.
<1958 THE BAGA RITUAL MASK
2010 SOLD 900 K€ INCLUDING PREMIUM
The African art pieces that have directly influenced modern Western art are particularly welcomed on the market. I discussed here a large Baga snake sold $ 3.3 million including premium by Sotheby's on May 16, 2008, which had been part of exhibitions comparing both cultures in the 1960s.
I commented at the time that the important works of the group Baga of Guinea were exceptional on the market. More reason to admire a Baga shoulder mask for sale by Christie's in Paris on December 1.
1.23 m high and monoxyle, it is a female bust resting on four feet looking like chair legs that are placed on the shoulder of the dancer. It is a beautiful figure of foster mother with a finely carved head and elongated breasts sloping down towards the belly, like those of the women of the tribe.
This anthropomorphic work which was exhibited in Boston in 1958 could become the equal of the snake at the beginning of my story. It has indeed the same quality of inspiring modern art: Picasso had a similar copy that influenced some portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter.
The work mildly interested wood eating insects, which have remained in the lower part. True fans could push the lot beyond the estimate of € 800K.
POST SALE COMMENT
Paris ends the year with great results for tribal art, which is a specialty of this auction place. The Baga shoulder mask was sold by Christie's at the expected price, € 900K including premium.
From the same collection, a Baule mask of extraordinary aesthetic quality was sold € 980K including premium.
The day before, Sotheby's sold, also in Paris, € 5.4 million including premium a Luba caryatid seat.
the matrilineal power of the chokwe
2016 sold for € 2.27M including premium
In the 1950s, anthropologists tried with a limited success to question seers and elders for understanding the subtlety of these lost cultures. It appears that the Chokwe society provided a political balance between the vitality of the man and the fertility of the woman. It is often led by a queen and the power transmission is matrilineal.
The legend of the origin of their kingdom was transmitted orally. The power of the women is symbolized by a trilogy: the principal wife of the chief and his mother, plus the founding princess Lueji who brought to the tribe the royal attributes and the bow.
At some point in the history of this group, aristocratic statuettes mark an obvious intent to express the beauty of the face, of the naked body and of the ornaments, with a naturalist attitude that is often lacking in the stylized figures of African tribal art. They are certainly much more a symbol of the power than a reference to some primordial ancestors, but their use has not been identified.
The figures of men are the most frequent. A hunter 49 cm high armed with his stick, ready to jump into action, was sold for € 3.8M including premium by Enchères Rive Gauche in June 2006. A sitting king playing the musical instrument named the sanza was acquired for € 1.45M including premium by the Musée du Quai Branly in a sale organized by Pierre Bergé et Associés in June 2010.
On June 22 in Paris, Sotheby's sells a Chokwe figure of woman 35 cm high, lot 9 estimated € 1.5M. Her role in the female trilogy can not be determined but she embodies the strength with the same attitude as the hunter : back elbows and bent knees. The details are accurate and the chest is powerful. The statuette has kept intact its thick and long hairdressing made in natural hair.
Le lot phare, la statue féminine, Chokwe est partie à 1.900.000 #AuctionLive @SothebysFr pic.twitter.com/MFZePXktx0— Tribal Art magazine (@TribalArtMag) June 22, 2016
Early 1830s The Funerary Figure of a Maori Chief
2014 SOLD 1.45 M€ including premium
This figure has retained its long and thick hair which was a sign of power. The geometric facial scars are definitely a picture of the true tattoos on this chief. Maori people gave indeed a very important attention to their genealogy. It was necessary to recognize the glorious ancient to better honor him.
Discovered in an attic in Scotland in 1979, it had been brought by a sailor in the early 1830s. The great condition of its human hair may indicate that this piece was not very old at the time of its collection.
We cannot find here any European influence. Maori relations with Europeans were not very tight, the embassy of Te Pahi in Australia in 1805 being a notable exception.
The former Maori art is now better known for its anthropomorphic architectural elements, columns or roof pieces. Statues in the round were destroyed in the 1850s by the Christian missionaries who considered them as unacceptable artifacts of the deification of ancestors.
This statuette 39 cm high is estimated € 1.5M, lot 10.
< 1966 The God of Papuans survived
2009 SOLD 1.2 M$ including premium
The art of the Papuan Gulf area, in New Guinea, has long been misunderstood. What remained of indigenous cultures has suffered. The objects were burned, broken, buried, moldied, gnawed.
So it is unusual that German scientists discovered in 1966 a large statue of the god Iriwake in good enough condition to be repaired. Iriwake, which means man of the woods, is the god of thunder and war, and encourages headhunters. It is believed that the inhabitants of a destroyed village had been careful to preserve it because of its importance.
This piece of wood of 1.25 cm was carved with stone, which indicates that it dates from the pre-contact period. The god is represented as a flat mid-figure effigy. The two massive arms are raised, and highlighted by a strident flash that extends to the chest. This object is unique, with the exception of a similar work which had been photographed in 1925.
The face, also designed in white lines, seems very familiar: it is not because we are connoisseurs of Papuan art but because Jean Dubuffet was greatly inspired by the art of this region.
For tribal arts, the highest prices are obtained on the objects described in major collections and which influenced modern art. This one was an important piece of the van Bussel collection. Sotheby's expects in excess of $ 1 million on May 15 in New York.
POST SALE COMMENT
I had some fears about the outcome, because of the condition of the object. After collection, an arm was detached and had to be reassembled.
The uniqueness of the object reflects a destroyed civilization, which influenced some trends of the art of the twentieth century. The price is at the height of its cultural significance: $ 1.2 million including expenses.
<1825 The Staff God of Rarotonga
2014 SOLD 1.2 M€ including premium
This cylindrical piece 49 cm high is an open worked stick 5cm in diameter carved in hard wood. The main figure is accompanied by small secondary figures that had perhaps a genealogical significance. The head is of course very long but it is very beautiful, with a non-scarred forehead that emphasizes the dignity.
The natives did not know the metal. This painstaking carving done with shells, stones and teeth is a tour de force.
Cook's voyages had raised evangelical vocations. The missionaries wanted to discover populated islands in order to immediately destroy their paganism. The vast archipelago of the Cook islands, including Rarotonga, is explored in the 1820s. The most active missionary in Rarotonga, John Williams, will be eaten by cannibals in 1839 in the New Hebrides.
The statement of total eradication of paganism in Rarotonga is made in 1825. Very few ritual pieces, including the figure for sale by Sotheby's, are saved and kept as curiosities. Almost all are emasculated for religious reasons and shortened for an easy shipment to England.
A Sepik Carved Board
2008 SOLD 1.3 M$ including premium
My today's highlight is a board of the Sawos group in the region of New Guinea east of Sepik River. It is probably large, but the press release from Sotheby's does not give such information, and the catalogue of the sale of November 14 in New York is not yet published.
Such a board is named Malu, and was made prior to contact with white men. Very finely carved with stone or shell tools, this one is covered with red, white and black pigments. The fact that pigments are still there makes it an exceptional item. Apart from the top of the board that presents a human figure, the rest of it is a complex abstract structure that could be considered as a genealogical tree.
In 1984, this item was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in an exhibition intending to show the links between "primitivism" and modern art. A tribal work pushed to the rank of a work of art: it reminds me of the Baga serpent that I presented to you once in this group, and was awarded $ 3.3 million including charges on May 16 at the same auction house.
The estimate of our Malu has already started to vibrate. On June 20, in its press release, Sotheby's announced between 500 and 700 K $. Today on the site, it is already question of 600 to 900 K $.
From the same Sawos group, another carved board of similar shape showing stylized animals, about 2 meters high, was sold 156 K € fees included by Sotheby's in Paris on December 5, 2007.
POST SALE COMMENT
Buyers have recognized the rarity of this exceptional work of art, made prior to contact with the rest of civilization: $ 1.3 million including expenses.
Now I am able to tell you its size: 2.08 meters high.
Cult of the Dead in Neumecklenburg
2012 SOLD 1.16 M€ including premium
The most prestigious figure of New Ireland art is the uli, a sculpture used to celebrate the memory of a leader during the full year following his death. Emil Nolde came himself to collect ulis in 1913.
The ulis have different faces that suggest the intention for a realistic portrait, but they also have common properties that reveal their magic. The naked hermaphrodite body suggests fertility. The enlarged head expresses the power, and the ability to communicate with beyond. The gaze is that of a warrior. The very wide horizontal mouth has an effective power of aggressiveness
The uli for sale on March 31 in Brussels by Lempertz, estimated € 700K, is an imposing piece of 1.27 m in wood inlaid with shells, and perhaps the exceptional case of a young man. Aesthetically beautiful, it was made about one century and a half ago and had been owned by Otto Dix before 1940.
POST SALE COMMENT
Great result, well deserved, for this important piece: € 1.16 M including premium.
Beauty of a Luluwa Ancestor
2012 SOLD 2.55 M$ including premium
It is a mask larger than life, 35 cm high, showing a figure with benevolent closed eyes. The globular forehead, the facial symmetry and the sharp scarification attest that this piece was created to symbolize the beauty. It must be perfect to attract the gentle spirits of the ancestors.
Created by the Luluwa people, neighbor of the Luba in Congo, the mask had many uses. For dance, it was probably worn at shoulder height: the vision holes are below the eyes of the mask. A specific wear at the top of the head indicates that it also served as a receptacle for sacred substances.
It is estimated to be around two centuries old. The good preservation of the wood shows that this piece was handled with care, despite an intensive use attested by many small native repairs.
This figure limited to the head can obviously not be stated as hermaphrodite, but it is perhaps no coincidence that the experts are unable to decide whether it is a woman or a man.
This mask is estimated $ 1.5 M.
POST SALE COMMENT
African art collectors like pieces which are old, beautiful, mysterious and in good condition. This one had all these qualities: $ 2.55 million including premium.
A Spirit in the Rainforest
2016 SOLD for $ 1.2M including premium
The Mbole social life was governed by a highly hierarchical secret initiatory society named the lilwa. This almost exclusively male community commonly practiced hanging, first as a punishment to deter the villagers from exercising harm and also to help their dying dignitaries to prepare the journey to the afterlife.
Most Mbole figures have an attitude of a starting flight, with bent knees and downward pointing feet which already prevent a further walking. A striking contrast is obvious in the quality of carving between the geometric precision of the head and the rest of the body which is only sketch-like.
The elongation of some of these figures evokes the corpse dried after the hanging. This is not the case of the statuette for sale but other characteristics confirm that it shows the deceased during his process of transformation into a spirit : the white face is a symbol of death and his head is reddish from the blood of the rebirth. Life was not any more supplying its sufferings and his expression is both serene and chilling.
This figure is a stunning and terrifying masterpiece from the deep rainforest. The annihilation of these societies under a pretext of civilization makes it difficult to reach a complete understanding of its mystical message.
First part of The Malcolm Collection of African Art comfortably exceeded the estimate today in #NY bringing $6.5m pic.twitter.com/yvwYxXFVDR— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) May 8, 2016
<1920s Ngil Masks
2011 SOLD 930 K€ including premium
Ngil masks of the Fang ethnic group in Gabon have no metaphysical role. They are not intended to communicate with the nature, the gods and the spirits of the dead. They are used for law enforcement by inspiring terror to evildoers, and also have a role of initiation.
These are real masks as they hide the wearer's face without taking the lines of an ancestor's head. The art of the Ngil masks is minimalist and severe, and had a profound influence on the international art of the twentieth century.
These masks are simple and effective. Eyebrows highlight the forehead, the nose is small and straight and the mouth, when it is shown, does not help. The very small eye holes refer to a symbol of other civilizations: the blind justice.
The star lot of the huge Vérité collection was a Ngil mask 48 cm high, remarkable for the preservation of its white layer of kaolin despite intensive use. It was sold € 5M before fees, 5.9 M including premium by Enchères Rive Gauche in Paris on June 17, 2006.
Another Ngil mask, collected in the 1920s by a colonial administrator, is for sale by Christie's in Paris on December 13. 58 cm high, it has a remarkable geometry close to abstraction.
This is one of the largest known specimens, but it is not painted. It is estimated € 600K, lot 286.
POST SALE COMMENT
Good result, € 930K including premium, in the region of the higher estimate.
The Kota Graveyard
2012 SOLD 1.08 M$ including premium
The Kota reliquary figures are familiar to lovers of African art, with their bodies in hollowed lozenge. This is not surprising. Their role is to identify the location of the receptacle containing the bones of the deceased, same as the Christian cross in a cemetery.
Their prices can vary enormously, depending on the size, on the quality of the carving and whether they are or not enhanced with metal. Some of them are Janus faced.
On 14 June 2011, Christie's sold € 1.2 million including premium a Kota reliquary figure from southeastern Gabon, 56 cm high, having belonged to the Ratton and Goldet collections. This wonderfully stylized piece is one to those which allow a parallel between African tribal art and modern art of the last century.
From Congo borderline to Gabon, a very different specimen is estimated $ 1M, for sale by Sotheby's on May 11 in New York., lot 131.
70 cm high and having belonged to the Arman collection, the mono-face Kota Ndasa reliquary figure is beautifully carved with both the realism of a portrait and an intense expression accentuated by the beauty of the scarifications.
POST SALE COMMENT
Good price but no surprise for this top quality Kota: $ 1.08 million including premium.
The Weeping Kota
2017 SOLD for $ 975K including premium
All of them respond to a single global geometric model. The head surmounts through a cylindrical neck the body limited to the perimeter of a losange. These polychrome figures are made of wood entirely covered on the front face of pressed and carved plates in copper, brass and iron held by pins.
Despite the global similarity, there are considerable aesthetic differences due to the traditions of the villages and to the inspiration of the artists. The best sculpted specimens are masterpieces of African sculpture.
The DeMiré-Rubin specimen, 66 cm high, sold for € 5.5M including premium by Christie's on June 23, 2015, displays a concave face whose extreme stylization is famous for its influence on Western modern art. Its tribal origin is probably Kota-Ndumu in Gabon.
Three figures from the Kota-Ndassa group, in current day Congo in the region of the Gabonese border, were probably made by one artist towards the 19th century of our calendar.
In full contrast to the Ndumu figure, the face is convex in an attempt at naturalism. Large radiating scarifications give an illusion of tears which is wrong by the fact of the very use of the object. If these figures were to represent weepers, such an ornament would be frequent.
The Kota-Ndassa from the Pinto and Arman collections, 69.5 cm high, was sold for $ 1.08M including premium by Sotheby's on May 11, 2012. Its nearest twin, 69 cm high, is estimated $ 1M for sale by Sotheby's in New York on November 13, lot 24.
A Masterpiece of Native African Art Could Sell for $1.5 Million at Sotheby’s https://t.co/3KFNMmAICv pic.twitter.com/KWvhBbwtrO— SGSwritereditor (@SGSwritereditor) November 7, 2017
< 1950s The Spirit of the Equatorial Kwele Ancestor
2009 SOLD 970 K€ including premium
In the rainforest at the boundary of Gabon, Cameroun and the current Congos, magic and funerary practices have generated masterpieces. In their search for perfect beauty, Kota and Kwele artists sought to express a relationship with the afterlife.
Thus we focus on a Kwele sculpture, for sale by Sotheby's in Paris on June 17. It is a convex head attached to a stool shaped pedestal by a long pedunculate neck. We imagine that this false stool is intended to protect the head from the dirt and mud of the soil, but it can also collect magical substances. The total height of the object is 41 cm.
The slightly flattened oval of the head, the arched shape of the thick eyebrows, the slit eyes, the triangular nose, the chiseled cap attached on the back of the head, are geometrically perfect. The pale complexion and no mouth reinforce the mystery of this spirit of asexual ancestor, which we are told that it looked over the skulls of the dead.
The patina is old, but as always, or almost, it is not possible to identify the date of creation. However, it dates from before the eradication of witchcraft in these regions, in the 1950s. The estimate is 450 K €.
Exhibited 1984 How Bamanas intercepted the Force
2009 SOLD 1.4 M€ including premium
First, it is a mask of a secret society, which is always a highly considered category on the market. It comes from the Bamana (or Bambara) people of Mali.
Then, the purity of its forms won it the honors to be presented in 1984 at MOMA, in an exhibition on Primitivism where tribal art and modern art were compared. It was then placed in front of the work of Max Ernst. Such an exhibition history values the object, no doubt.
The head is round, including two large pointed ears around a large trunk directed downwards. The total height is 48 cm.
This is not the portrait of an animal but of a hybrid combining the best magical features of the forest beasts. The trunk is provided by the elephant, of course: strength, wisdom, intelligence. The ears express the sensory sharpness of the hyena, able to capture the metaphysical waves.
POST SALE COMMENT
This mask was worth more than its estimate, as I had supposed. It was sold 1.4 million € premium included.
Rivalry between two Songye Power Figures
2008 SOLD 240 K€ including premium
Christie's and Sotheby's are used throughout the world to hold their major specialty sales at the same time in the same city. Still do not believe they work together so closely that two Songye Kalebwe power figures of the same size are presented the same day, December 4 in Paris by each of the two auction houses. They come from two different collections.
At Christie's, it is lot 319, estimated 300 K €. It is a male figure 89 cm high. The face is expressive and nicely scarified. The inflated belly is centered with a hole in the navel, to gather magic materials. It is wearing a cat skin around the hips. Made in wood, it is decorated with metal ornaments.
At Sotheby's, it is lot 146, estimated 200 K €, 88 cm high. The aged head is very realistic. Made for the same use as Christie's sample, it has retained its magic loads. Its cloth on the hips is in raffia.
The Songye are a population of the current Democratic Republic of Congo.
POST SALE COMMENT
The two rivals had targeted too high in their estimates for Songye fetishes.
Christie's did not sell its own.
Sotheby's has sold its own 240 K € inclusive, very close to the low estimate. Two other Songye fetishes remained unsold at Sotheby's, on estimates of 200 and 180 K €.
Grebo masks could not be considered as realistic. They were a "monoxyle" (one-tree) composition made of geometric elements protruding on a flat panel. Yet the spectator perceives multiple mouths and eyes that constitute a human or animal head. The eyes are solid pedunculated cylinders painted in the middle of their flat surface to simulate pupils.
Picasso had a Grebo mask. Assisted by Kahnweiler, he understood that realism is not useful in art and may even weaken the mystical meaning. The multiplication of the eyes in the Grebo masks was probably to express the vision of the invisible, somehow like the third eye of wisdom in Asia. By increasing the power of surveillance, it helped to protect against the enemy, like the Janus in other African ethnic groups.
Picasso wanted to create a cubist sculpture without falling into abstraction. His 1912 Guitare, directly inspired by the reverted volumes of Grebo eyes, depicted the holes by tubes for the first time in Western sculpture.
Vérité owned two Grebo masks very similar to one another in one of the strangest configurations, with two faces on top of each other. Each face consists of two pairs of eyes, two lips and a nasal bar. The teeth are simulated in chevrons at the juxtaposition of the lips. The upper mouth serves as a forehead to the lower face. The summit ornament is different, in crown in one case and a pair of horns in the other.
These very tall pieces were made of light wood that attracted the xylophagi. As the figured eyes were not hollowed out, the vision of the dancer was achieved through two tiny holes between upper and lower faces.
The crowned mask was sold for € 1,32M including premium by Christie's on June 23, 2015 over a lower estimate of € 500K. It is 88 cm high and its board is painted in dark blue. The 83 cm high horned mask is estimated € 700K for sale by Sotheby's in Paris on December 12, lot 50.
the dan masquerade
The beauty of the face is an important criterion which reflects the benevolence of the spirit. The Dan artists know to compare their work together, resulting in a corpus of masks of a remarkable diversity. The uses are varied from dance to altar but the details of the rites are not well known.
Helena Rubinstein had assembled an extensive collection of African art, with a predilection for the quality of the face that matches the professional interests of this outstanding businesswoman of the cosmetics. A Dan mask that had belonged to her is estimated $ 1M for sale by Christie's in New York on May 12, lot 603.
This mask has some features that are perhaps unique in their kind. Under the classic rounded forehead, the triangular shaped lower face is abundantly pierced, bringing to this piece of wood the like of a weaving. The holes were used for hanging ornaments or cloth but their arrangement on this wrinkled face is weird and unusual. A very long braid hanging from the chin gives to the face of this ancestor the appearance and probably the role of an elderly man.
Helena Rubinstein scrupulously annotated her collection. The information that this piece came from the Danane region in Ivory Coast was certainly collected at the time of her acquisition and is credible.
THE RIGHT USE OF A NAIL FETISH
A nkondi will dominate by its magic power the auction sale room of Christie's in Paris on June 15. It is estimated 400 K €.
85 cm high, this fetish of the Kongo, and more exactly Yombe, ethnic group has a powerful human body and face. The belly is covered with nails arranged around a ball of magic substance, or nkisi.
It has a peaceful role, protecting the tribe against evil spirits and diseases. The nkisi is a sacred medicine, which distinguishes the nkondi compared to other types of reliquaries. Nails are not there to protect the figure but to implement the peace agreements between different groups.
Its haughty and majestic appearance was enough to spare it, and it comes up today in a good condition, apart from the fact that other nkisi balls which were at the head have disappeared.
POST SALE COMMENT
The most important lots of the sale, including this one, have not been sold. The fans had instead chosen the Kerchache sale on Sunday in Paris by Pierre Bergé et Associés, where a royal Tshokwe statue (Angola) has been sold 1.45 million € including premium.