Come say hi in Paris !

Bruno Claessens Luba-Shankadi statue figure Congo Mwanza Christies 23 June 2016

My apologies for the radio silence on the blog these last weeks; I was totally occupied with my first two sales at Christie’s Paris. If you are in the neighborhood, please do come say hello to me and my beautiful cover girl. There are only four days left to admire our wonderful selection of African, Oceanic and North-American art:

Monday June 20, 10:00am – 6:00pm
Tuesday June 21, 10:00am – 6:00pm
Wednesday June 22, 10:00am – 6:00pm
Thursday June 23, 10:00am – 12:00pm

The sale of the Jacqueline Loudmer collection (info) is on Thursday 23 June and starts at 3PM, it is immediately followed by our various owners sale. As there are no reserves for the Loudmer collection (everything must go!), it will in all likelihood take a bit longer than on average, so our second sale is expected to start around 7PM. Don’t hesitate to reserve a telephone line, leave an absentee bid, bid online or just be there. You know where to find me if I can be of any assistance.

A newly discovered Mangbetu masterpiece

Image courtesy of Salle de Ventes du Beguinage.

Image courtesy of Salle de Ventes du Beguinage.

One often hears the claim that all major African works of art are known by now. But we Belgians (and the French too of course) know better. Every now and then something major pops out of nowhere, and today was such a day again. The small Brussels auction house Beguinage sold a previously unknown Mangbetu harp with an anthropomorphic column for a small fortune: it was hammered down for € 300,000 (so ca. € 360,000 with costs), selling to a French dealer (a Belgian colleague being the underbidder). Once again a clear prove that it doesn’t matter how small or obscure the sale is, if it’s good it gets noticed. Note that is has been a while since I posted about sleepers at auction..

Coming back to this harp, Georg August Schweinfurth gave a beautiful description about the importance of music in the local daily life when he visited the Zande and Mangbetu region between 1867 and 1871:

‘Apart from the special characteristics that distinguish them, more or less pronounced marks of race that pick out the different groups of the human family, the Niam-Niams are men of the same nature as others; they have the same passions, the same joys, the same pains as us. I have exchanged any number of jokes with them, I have taken part in their childish games, accompanied by the sound of their drums or mandolins, and I have found in them the same gaiety and verve found elsewhere.’ (“Au Coeur de l’Afrique. Trois ans de voyages et d’aventures dans les régions inexplorées de L’Afrique Centrale (1868-1871)”, Le Tour Du Monde, Nouveau Journal des Voyages, Vol. 28, 1874: p. 210)

‘But the Niam-Niamshave other pleasures; they have an instinctive love of art, and owe to it more elevated pleasures. Passionate about music, they extract from their mandolins sounds which resonate in the deepest fibers of their being and which thrown them into genuine intoxication. The concerts they offer themselves are of unimaginable lengths. Piaggia has said that a Niam- Niam would play his instrument for twenty-four hours without leaving it for a second, forgetting to eat or drink; and even though I know well this people’s appetite, I believe Piaggia was right. Their favorite instrument is related at once to the harp and mandolin. It resembles the former by the disposition of its strings and the latter by the form of the body. Built precisely according to the laws of acoustics, the soundboard has two openings. The strings, solidly held by pegs, are sometimes made of vegetable fibers, sometimes of giraffe tail-hair. As for the music played on these mandolins, it is highly monotonous; it would be difficult to discern in it the slightest semblance of melody. It is never more than an accompaniment to a recitation, sung in a plaintive (even whining) tone, and of a decidedly nasal timbre. I have many times seen friends going arm in arm playing this way, beating time with their heads, and plunging each other into a profound ecstasy.’ (op. cit., 1874: pp. 222-223)

Unfortunately there don’t exist recordings of Mangbetu harp music.

UPDATE: Amyas Naegele was kind enough to share this short vintage recording of this type of harp:

OUT NOW: “Baule Monkeys” (by Bruno Claessens & Jean-Louis Danis – Fonds Mercator, 2016)

Baule Monkeys Bruno Claessens Jean-Louis Danis Mercator Fonds Ivory Coast

It’s time to go bananas! After 2,5 years of hard work, I’m proud to finally announce the launch of my second book: “Baule Monkeys”. My new, beautiful baby has 118 illustrations and counts 192 pages (with 25 chapters divided into four sections and 408 must-read footnotes); there’s also a French version. The seeds for this book go back a long time: about ten years ago, I encountered a Baule monkey figure from Ivory Coast for the first time during a visit to Bruneaf in Brussels’ Sablon quarter. I was utterly amazed by this bowl-bearing figure and the encounter with this statue was one of the very first times that an African art object really grasped the novice I then was. The opportunity to explore these enigmatic figures would come only years later. The Africarium Collection (which I at that time had been co-curating for a while) in June 2013 acquired the incredible cross-legged bowl-bearer illustrated on the front cover. This purchase would turn out to the catalyst to this book. The Africarium had already assembled an important group of monkey figures at the time, and this acquisition justified to dedicate these figures to the first monograph on the subject. Sharing my passion for them, Jean-Louis Danis, Africarium’s founder, agreed, and so we came to write this book.

“Baule Monkeys” wishes to explores the many aspects of these fear-inducing sculptures far from the traditional art canon of the well-known delicate Baule masks and figures. The book explores the creation, usage and morphology of the bowlbearers, and sheds light on the cultural and ritual context in which they operated. There’s also a general chapter on monkeys in African art. Through extensive research, “Baule Monkeys” combines new and fascinating discoveries with all earlier research on the subject. It as well includes several unpublished field-photos from Susan M. Vogel (who also wrote the foreword). The book focuses on fifteen examples from the Africarium Collection and a further forty monkey figures from public and private collections all presented in beautifully detailed full page spreads.

“Baule Monkeys” (and its French version “Singes Baule”) are published by Mercator Fonds – you can order it on their website here – and if you scroll down you can also find a small preview of the inside.

This Thursday (9 June), I’ll be signing the book at Vasco Books in Brussels (who also have the book in stock) from 3 to 5PM – I hope to see you there!

ps there’s also a private event in Brussels on Friday (contact me to get on the guest list).

Gallery Lemaire archives digitized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Therese Finette Lemaire and Matthias Lemaire, circa 1970s. Photo courtesy of Finette Lemaire.

Therese Finette Lemaire and Matthias Lemaire, circa 1970s. Photo courtesy of Finette Lemaire.

As my mentor Guy van Rijn always used to say when discussing old archives: “our greatest enemy is the trash bin”. Fortunately, more than ever, people these days realize the value and importance of photographic archives and not that much gets thrown away anymore. I was thus very happy to learn that Jen Larson, Assistant Visual Resource Manager at the Met’s Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas (AAOA), recently digitized approximately 15,000 inventory photographs from the Amsterdam based Gallery Lemaire. This archive spans over 40 years of international, non-Western art-dealing activity from this well-known Dutch gallery. It was founded in 1933 by Matthias Lemaire and since then has been continually run by three generations of the family. The records unfortunately are not accessible online, but are open for research by appointment at the AAOA Visual Resource Archive – you can find more info here.

Matthias Lemaire, circa 1950. Photo courtesy of Finette Lemaire.

Matthias Lemaire, circa 1950. Photo courtesy of Finette Lemaire.

Catalogue online: The Jacqueline Loudmer Collection (Christies, Paris, 23 June 2016)

Jacqueline Loudmer Christie's 23 Juin 2016 Paris

I’m proud to announce my second catalogue for June: “Collection Jacqueline Loudmer – Succession Jacqueline Millodot”; you can browse it here. Besides 41 paintings and drawings (among which some important works by Fernand Léger), the sales holds 124 objects from Africa, Northern America and Oceania with provenances such as Beasley, Brandt, Degand, Dehondt, de Baillencourt, de Launoit, Friede, Furman, Gallibert, Harter, Hooper, Kerchache, Le Corneur, Loeb, Mazaraki, Mertens, Mestach, Meulendijk, Morigi, Ortiz, Perret, Pinto, Rassmussen, Ratton, Rockefeller, Schindler, Schoeller, Simpson, Tronche and Viot. Note that since it is an estate sale, the estimates are very modest in order to sell everything. Let the fact that there will be no reserve prices make it clear that we wish to find new owners for all objects 🙂

As we as well will offer the Emily Wingert estate during the various owners sale immediately following this auction (info), we will thus be selling the collections of two important female collectors of the 20th century. With the Bamana lady on the front of this catalogue, and the Luba-Shankadi cover girl for the various owners sale, it’s safe to say our two sales are all about women in African and Oceanic art. Jacqueline Loudmer, once married to Guy Loudmer (who organized several important African and Oceanic auctions in Paris in the 1970s), was a well know figure in the Paris art scene of the 1970s and 80s. Her personal collection, however, remained very private and features several great rediscoveries – but those I’ll let you discover yourself !

Jacqueline Loudmer Guy Christie's Paris african and oceanic art

An African statue on the cover of a French thriller

grange congo requiem vili figure art

One encounters African art in the strangest places; yesterday I was leaving Paris as I ran into this advertisement for the new book of Jean-Christophe Grange in Gare du Nord. On the front cover, I spotted a famous zoomorphic figure from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This Vili monkey figure was collected before 1884 and is currently in the collection of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde (Leiden, The Netherlands) – see it in its full glory below. I haven’t read the book, but apparently the antagonist of this thriller is called l’Homme Clou (‘the nail man’).

Vili monkey figure. Height: 35 cm. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden, The Netherlands.

Vili monkey figure. Height: 35 cm. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden, The Netherlands.


“Masks of Central Africa” – a traveling exhibition in China

Masks of Central Africa Guandong

Great news from China. On April 29th 2016, a new exhibition about Congolese masks opened at the Guangdong Museum of Art in Canton. It is organized by Ethnic Art & Culture Ltd (Hong Kong) and curated by Marc Felix – who in the last decades has been doing a tremendous effort to stimulate and enlarge the appreciation of African art in China.

The show displays 120 Congolese masks from private collections, 15 with their complete costume, and 16 musical instruments that were used in masquerades (coming from Phoenix’s Musical instrument museum). Field photos from the RMCA Tervuren are displayed on the museum walls. You can see some installation shots here or here. The first weekend attracted 52,000 visitors, so it’s certainly a success story so far. The (free!) exhibition stays at the Guangdong Museum untill July 24th 2016 and will then travel:

  • August 2 till November 6, 2016 at the Nanjing Museum,
  • November 25 2016 till March 5, 2017 at the Gansu Provincial Museum,
  • March 24 till June 26 2017 at the Yunnan Provincial Museum,
  • July 7 till September 10 2017 at the Henan Museum.

There will be 2 catalogues of 352 pages in A4+ format, one in Chinese and one in English/French, containing 800 pictures. Twelve authors wrote essays for the catalogue: Viviane Baeke, David Binkley, Arthur Bourgeois, Kellim Brown, Rik Ceyssens, Pol-Pierre Gossiaux, Marc Leo Felix, Manuel Jordan, Constantine Petridis, Z. S. Strother, Julien Volper, and Pan Yanqin. The English/French edition of the catalogue will be for sale at Congo Gallery in Brussels during BRUNEAF.

Masks of Central Africa Marc Felix

Marc Felix was kind enough to send me some pictures from the installation in Guangdong.

Note that the local curator unfortunately took a bit of liberty with the exhibition's title.

Note that the local curator unfortunately took a bit of liberty with the exhibition’s title by adding a new main title.

Masks of Central Africa China Marc Felix exhibition 2

Masks of Central Africa China Marc Felix exhibition 3


Masks of Central Africa China Marc Felix exhibition 5

Masks of Central Africa China Marc Felix exhibition 6

Masks of Central Africa China Marc Felix exhibition 7

Masks of Central Africa China Marc Felix exhibition 8

My first auction catalogue online! (Christie’s, Paris, 23 June 2016)


I’m very proud to present my first auction catalogue for Christie’s, you can browse it here.


Christie's Paris 23 June 2016 Bruno Claessens African Art


So, now you know why it has been so quiet on the blog these last few weeks 🙂

The sale features an important selection of objects from the estate of Emily ‘Jazzy’ Wingert (1934-2015). Especially her Maori works are truly exceptional. Below the English translation of the catalogue note about Ms. Wingert:

“Stop the Bus!” : The Emily A. Wingert Collection of Oceanic and African Art

In the 1950’s, as a college student, Emily Wingert (1934-2015) was travelling downtown on the Third Avenue bus in Manhattan when she was struck by a window display of African art. She recalled calling out, “Stop the bus!”, because she was so captivated by what she saw that she had to have a closer look. It was the historic gallery of Julius Carlebach that changed the course of her life. The works of art left her hungry for more information, and she changed her major to anthropology at Columbia University.

She studied with renowned scholar, Paul Wingert, whom she would later marry. Together in 1962, they took a sort of honeymoon in the form of a year-long academic journey through the Pacific, with most of their time spent studying Maori art in New Zealand. It is surely the deep knowledge she gained during this time that eventually informed her important Maori acquisitions. That, along with her continuing passion for African and pre columbian art, inspired her to build an impressive collection.

Emily Wingert’s interests and talents were vast and varied, though. After Paul Wingert’s death in 1974, as the owner and CEO of Mark Ten Security in Montclair, she became one of New Jersey’s first female licensed private detectives. In 1988, she followed her passion for jazz and fine dining and created Trumpets, a jazz club and restaurant in Montclair. After 10 years, she sold Trumpets following a sudden and total hearing loss. Adjusting to her deafness, she joined an online discussion group known as the “Say What Club.” This organization became her new passion, and she helped lead a group of people who felt isolated DUE TO THEIR HEARING difficulties, into a mutually supportive community. As an early adopter of the Internet, Emily found that she could talk to people and regain some of the connectivity she had lost with her hearing.

Born into a collecting family, Emily Wingert, nevertheless, clearly was a woman ahead of her time and an original spirit. She would later describe her passion for collecting African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art (in Vision, Montclair State College, Spring 1989): ‘Not only DO these pieces provide vibrant and exciting clues to the past, they are also great art forms that deserve as much of a place in the art world as works by Picasso or Matisse. I have donated works of art [to the Montclair State College Museum] with the hope that they will inspire others to study this art.’ Emily Wingert surely would be delighted to learn that the objects from her precious collection will come to enrich the lives of a new generation of collectors.

The ‘Stop the bus’ anecdote reminded me of the opening scene of Bell, Book and Candle (see it here), with features a recreation of Carlebach’s gallery in New York. Anyway, I’ll write more about our sale in the coming weeks. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you should have questions about any of our lots.

A sneak peek of “Evolution of Form” (Christie’s, New York, May 2016)

Evolution of Form Baule Leyden

A sneak peek (one day before anyone else!) of one of the rooms of our upcoming curated sale Evolution of Form. As you can see, our African and Oceanic masterpieces will be in good company – or is the other way around?! We have a 12-day viewing period at the Rockefeller Center (I’ll be there from the 7th). The dates:

Apr 30 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
May 1 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM
May 2 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
May 3 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
May 4 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
May 5 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
May 6 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
May 7 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
May 8 12:00 PM – 3:00 PM
May 9 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
May 10 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
May 11 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

The sale is on the 12th of May. You can find all info on Evolution of Form here. As we are celebrating Christie’s 250th anniversary this year, I can assure you everybody is even more than ever doing their utmost best to create two unforgettable weeks at our New York headquarters. As you can see, its not only the African and Oceanic art that will be of an outstanding quality. I hope to see you there!

Evolution of Form Modigliani

Evolution of Form Baule statue Ivory Coast Christie's May 2016

ps meanwhile in Paris, the cover lot for our June sale, a splendid Luba statue, is proving that African art definitely deserves the title of ‘fine art’ – being displayed with some amazing French antiquities during the viewing days of our Le goût Français sale.

Luba Shankadi figure Congo Le gout francais christies

Exactly 50 years ago today


As my boss Susan Kloman mailed me this morning: “Happy Helena Rubinstein day!” 🙂

Today marks the 50th birthday of the landmark sale of her collection of African and Oceanic art by New York’s Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc. 21 April 1966 will forever remain an important turning point in the worldwide appreciation of African and Oceanic art. The unprecedented prices paid for the objects from her collection would radically alter the commercial value of African art ever after. And, together with this sale, the provenance of an object would came to have an increasingly important influence on its value. We included a small tribute to her in the catalogue of our upcoming sale in New York.. (click on it to zoom)

Evolution of form Helena Rubinstein Christie's


You can see the full Evolution of Form catalogue here, it includes a fascinating Dan mask, described by yours truly, which can be seen on the below interior shot of Rubinstein’s Paris apartment below.


Helena Rubinstein’s apartment on boulevard Raspail, c. 1930. At right, the Rubinstein Dan mask. Photograph by Dora Maar.

Helena Rubinstein’s apartment on boulevard Raspail, c. 1930. At right, the Rubinstein Dan mask. On the left, a Brancusi. Photograph by Dora Maar.