Browsing through the catalogue of the next Sotheby’s Paris sale, it’s evident how the estimates are again much steeper than with their New York colleagues. A good example are the two Luluwa figures illustrated above. Though they have a different patina, they are clearly from the same workshop and most likely even by the same hand. Note that the figure on the left was photographed from below, which gives a slightly different perspective (cf. the mouth). Both figures have large C-shaped eyes, diamond shaped eyes and only schematically rendered fingers. The overall composition is pratically identical. Besides the patination, the biggest difference is the scarification pattern on the forehead. Closer examination reveals other small differences. Personally, I am convinced they are by the same hand. Strangely enough, Sotheby’s doesn’t make any reference to the figure they sold six months ago in New York. Instead, we learn its style connects it with the Bakwa Ndoolo subgroup and that it is similar to a female figure from the Robert Reisdorff Collection, which was published by Olbrechts’ Plastiek van Kongo in 1946 (see below). This last figure does have much in common, like the C-shaped ears and diamond shaped eyes. Nevertheless its hands are much more realistically carved and the overall carving is much more crisp. Together with the body scarifications (absent in both Sotheby’s figures), I would dare to speculate the Reisdorff figure is an earlier generation of this style. So far the art history.
Now, concerning the estimates. The figure on the right was sold in New York last May for € 21K (est. € 9K-14K) (info)*. The one on the left, on the other hand, will be sold in Paris on 11 December, and has an estimate of € 60K-90K (info). A six-fold increase ! Both figure never were published nor exhibited and the provenances are not so very different in ‘value’ (Pierre Dartevelle for the Paris figure and Paul Timmermans for New York) – though Timmermans was a Luluwa expert and published on the subject.
(* previously sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 8 May 1989. Lot 74. Sold for $ 13K)
I have labeled this atelier “The Luluwa workshop of the diamond shaped eyes”, though these typical eyes are possibly more a characteristic of a regional style. During Bruneaf 2011, Kellim Brown presented a group of six figures in this same style by a carver which he identified as Bakwa Ndolo (scroll down here for pictures). I still have to read his book on the subject (Southern Kasai Hands, Brussels 2011). The ears of the figures of this very productive artist are smaller than the artist under discussion here and the apron is clearly differently conceived. To finish, two more figures from the Luluwa master of the diamond shaped eyes.