Tag Archives: Songye

Painting of the day: ‘Katompe’ by Fernand Allard d’Olivier

Kifwebe dancers masks Ferand Allard lOlivier 1024x837 Painting of the day: Katompe by Fernand Allard dOlivier

‘Katompe’ – Fernand Allard l’Olivier. Oil on canvast, 80 x 100 cm. Image by Ferry Herrebrugh, courtesy of Galerie Raf Van Severen, Antwerp.

A couple of years ago, when I was working for a local art-event, I was pleased to discover the above painting at one of the participants. It was made by Fernand Allard l’Olivier (Tournai, 1883-Yanongé, Belgian Congo 1933), one of the most important Belgian Africanists (the artists, not the scholars in this case). It features a pair of Songye kifwebe masks, accompanied by multiple musicians and dancers. Curiously enough women are present during the depicted masquerade – perhaps an addition by the painter to fill the canvas? Anyhow, the detail in which the scene is depicted is remarkable – check those costumes! Painted between 1928 and 1933, it is a very early in-situ recording of these mask’s existence. In 1928 Allard l’Olivier made his first trip to what was then the Belgian Congo where he made copious sketches and drawings – scenes of daily life, dancers, musicians, rituals and so on. Allard l’Olivier’s second mission to Congo was also his last, brought to a tragic end when he drowned in the River Congo. The Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp has some of his monumental paintings, and his works hang in the museums of Tournai and Tervuren as well.

(Click the image to zoom.)

Object of the day: a 19th century Songye kifwebe mask

Vandevelde Songye kifwebe mask 19th century 1024x850 Object of the day: a 19th century Songye kifwebe mask

Currently on view at the Initiates exhibition at the Musée Dapper in Paris, the above Songye kifwebe mask was the first to arrive in Europe in the late 19th century. It was collected by Liévin Vandevelde (1850-1888), a Belgian colonial officer of the Congo Free State, who gave it to his sister in 1885. Stanley, who Vandevelde accompanied during one of his trips considered Vandevelde ‘his second self’. Vandevelde had assisted the German explorer Eduard Pechuël-Loesche on an earlier trip and would later die during his third voyage in Congo in 1888. In 1885, he collaborated with the government of Angola to eradicate witchcraft in the region. He never traveled in the Songye region and probably acquired the mask from a Portuguese. The Musée du quai Branly holds another famous Songye object collected by him, the incredible headrest illustrated below.

Songye headrest Lievin Vandevelde Quai Branly Object of the day: a 19th century Songye kifwebe mask

Image courtesy of the Musée du quai Branly (#73.1986.1.3).

Sotheby’s NY catalogues online (16/05/2014)

Sothebys Ngbandi figure Krugier Picasso 579x1024 Sothebys NY catalogues online (16/05/2014)

Ngbandi figure (lot 308). Height: 72,1 cm. Est. $ 200-300K. Ex Pablo Picasso. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

























The two May 16 auction catalogues are online; you can browse the second part of the Allan Stone collection here. The various owners sale among others includes African art from the Lasansky and Krugier collections can be found here.

Songye figure Allan Stone May 2014 lot 69 Sothebys NY catalogues online (16/05/2014)

Songye figure (lot 69). Height: 54,6 cm. Est. $ 40-60K. Ex Allan Stone. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Field-photo of the day: a Songye figure

 Field photo of the day: a Songye figure

Image courtesy of Boris Kegel-Konietzko, 1959.

A few years ago, when I was still actively contributing to the Yale University – Van Rijn – Archive of African art, the German dealer Boris Kegel-Konietzko allowed us to include the field-photos from his travels through Songye-land in the database. The above picture, taken at Kabinda in 1959, was included in the batch. Of course, I did not hesitate to browse through the thousands of Songye figures in the archive to check if I could find this figure back. Great was my suprise, when I discovered this statue was now, in a slightly different state, in Yale’s own collection. Being part of the Benenson collection, it was donated to the Yale University Art Gallery in 2006 – without the Kegel-Konietzko provenance! Thanks to this picture of the figure at its time of collection, we now know it was originally dressed with an animal skin and partly wrapped in a cotton cloth. The attached smaller figures were also original to the figure. Both field-photo and figure are published in Frederick J. Lamp’s catalogue of the Benenson collection, Accumulating Histories (p. 149).

 Field photo of the day: a Songye figure

Songye figure. Height: 124,5 cm. Image courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery (#2006.51.148). (info)

Sleepers and wake up calls at auctions

I received an interesting note from my mentor Guy van Rijn today.

Dear Bruno,

I think that you use the word ”sleeper’ in the wrong sense.

A sleeper in an auction is an object that stays unnoticed, but the expert with a keen eye has spotted it and will buy it at very fair price. For example, a Congo figure was sold in 2006 on Ebay for € 10,000,-; the next week it was sold for more than 1 million. Discretion stops me to show a photo (insiders know about this story).

An object that will make a much higher price than the estimation, is a totally other thing. This Teke figure, for example, could have been a sleeper, if it wouldn’t have been discovered by numerous interested parties and made a record price.

Teke statue figure Hôtel des ventes Victor Hugo Sleepers and wake up calls at auctions

Teke figure. Height: 36 cm. Sold for € 198,000 (premium included) by Hôtel des Ventes Victor Hugo (Dijon) on 9 February 2014.

There are several reasons why an object makes a price multiple times the high estimate. I will list some for you:

A) It is possible that an expert-dealer or collector has spotted an object with a too low estimate because certain provenance was unknown to the auctioneer. The full provenance is missing because the seller did not know it, and/or the auction expert did not have the time to do the proper research on it. This Baule tapper for example was sold by Lucien Van de Velde in the 1970s, information unknown to Native, and with a positive effect on its actual value. The same often happens with objects that were published long ago.

Baule tapper native Lucien van de velde Sleepers and wake up calls at auctions

Image courtesy of Native.

B) The auction expert knows, but uses an object as a teaser to lure buyers. He deliberately appraises an object with a very low estimate. Collectors will be attracted and hopefully bid more eager on this piece, and on the rest of the auction, than with a high estimate. A good example is the cover lot of the last Lempertz sale in Brussels, estimated € 10,000-20,000,- this top quality Korwar made € 105,000,- (including costs € 133,000,-).

Korwar Lempertz Sleepers and wake up calls at auctions

Image courtesy of Lempertz.

C) Overpaid. Let me state here first that a great object is hardly ever overpaid. But it happens that two bidders will not give in, and a less important object will make a price that is not comparison with the market value, “it takes two to Tango”! The Songye axe below might be the best example of these last years (info); it sold for almost 100 times its estimate.

Songye axe Frobenius Sothebys Sleepers and wake up calls at auctions

Songye axe. Collected by Leo Frogenius between 1910-1912. Estimated at € 4,000-8,000,- and sold for € 384,750,- Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

D) A last reason is less ethical, a dealer who sells a piece at auction and lets a friend do the bidding by phone (unknown by the people in the salesroom). In the meantime the dealer advised/convinced an ‘amateur’ ( the third person, or actual buyer) to buy at a high price. This could be a nasty “wake up call” some day!

So the sleepers I have been posting on my blog were in fact wide awake. The auctioneer might have been sleepy, the bidders were not. I might need a new term.


UPDATE: A reader writes:

I am not sure my understanding of the term ’sleeper’ is consistent with that of Mr. van Rijn, at least in the US. It means here ‘unanticipated success or recognition’. In politics, for instance, it refers to a candidacy, pundits wrote off, but the candidate showed surprising strength, if not victory. Your use of terms and examples cited by Mr. van Rijn are entirely consistent with this definition and usage of the term ’sleeper’. A more common term in politics but still applicable elsewhere is ‘dark horse’ essentially conveying the same meaning.

Ethnographic Museum Antwerp Collection Online

Nkanu MAS AE.1961.0077 Ethnographic Museum Antwerp Collection Online

Nkanu panel. Height: 43,8 cm. Image courtesy of the MAS (# AE.1961.0077).

The Antwerp MAS – Museum aan de Stroom, which holds the collection of the former Ethnographic Museum, recently launched their online collection database. You can browse it here. Note that the data describing the content is only in Dutch. So figure becomes beeld and mask, masker. Unfortunately only the basic data for all of the items held in the collection database is shown; provenance and acquisition date (information so valuable) aren’t listed (yet) – I would for example love to know when the kifwebe mask below entered the collection. The images are also only in low resolution, but at least the items that are not on display in the museum – over 95% of the total – are now accessible. What is also nice is that you can leave comments with additions or reactions if you spot mistakes or gaps. Note that not all of the 400,000 objects in the collection of the MAS have already been added to the database. Happy browsing*, there’s plenty to discover! (*best not with safari since there are still some small bugs in the software)

UPDATE: both acquistion date & provenance are now also visible in extended display (info) !

Mbuun cup MAS AE.0281 Ethnographic Museum Antwerp Collection Online

Mbuun cup. Height: 20,5 cm. Image courtesy of the MAS (#AE.0281).

Songye Figure MAS Antwerp AE.0744 Ethnographic Museum Antwerp Collection Online

Songye figure. Height: 40,5 cm. Image courtesy of the MAS (AE.0744).

Songye kifwebe mask MAS AE.0338 Ethnographic Museum Antwerp Collection Online

Songye kifwebe mask. Height: 36 cm. Image courtesy of the MAS (#AE.0338).

Sotheby’s announces sale of the collection of Allan Stone

On November 15, 2013, Sotheby’s will present the collection of Allan Stone, featuring African, Oceanic and Indonesian Art, from the famed collections of this legendary New York art dealer. A second sale of equal size will be held in November 2014. A first group of works from Stone’s collection was already auctioned at Christie’s in 2007.

The Allan Stone Collection is most well-known for its strong holdings of Songye and Kongo figures – partly exhibited in 2011 during “Power Incarnate” at the Bruce Museum (more info hereherehere). Especially for Songye sculpture these two sales could prove to be an important momentum.

You can read the press announcement here. Quoting Sotheby’s: the sculptures in his personal collection are manifestations of an artistic vision that seeks to feature expressive energy through powerful accumulations of mixed media. That’s poetry. Allan Stone did make his name dealing in 20th-century American art, particularly abstract expressionism, and the press texts clearly try to recontextualise his African art collection establishing an intellectual relationship with the assemblage sculpture that Stone championed.

A wonderful view on how Stone’s collection was presented at his house can be seen in this fragment from “The Collector: Allan Stone’s Life in Art”, a film created by his youngest daughter Olympia Stone:

More info about the film here (featuring more clips, interviews, etc.). For his obituary in The New York Times, click here.

Open-access images from the Yale University Art Gallery

Songye Stool Yale Benenson 768x1024 Open access images from the Yale University Art Gallery

Songye caryatid stool. (image courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery, #2006.51.292)

Since last week, the Yale University Art Gallery is pleased to participate in the Yale open-access policy, which offers access to images of objects in their collection. Around 1800 images of African art are available for immediate download through the Gallery’s website. Simply search the collection, and once you have found the object you are looking for, click the download link beneath the image. Open-access means that no permission is required to use these images (on the condition that the YUAG is of course correctly credited). As discussed before here, I think this is a wonderful evolution and I’m happy to hear my former employer is leading the way.

Discover the highlights of the African art collection here or search the collection here.

The Yale University Art Gallery’s collection of art from Africa south of the Sahara had its beginnings with gifts of several textiles in 1937, and it now numbers some 1,800 objects in wood, metal, ivory, ceramic, and other materials. Major milestones in forming the collection occurred in 1954 with the acquisition of the Linton Collection of African Art, purchased for the Gallery by Mr. and Mrs. James M. Osborn, and in 2004 with the gift of the collection of nearly six hundred African objects from Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933. Concurrent with the 2004 gift, Mr. Benenson endowed the new position of the Frances and Benjamin Benenson Foundation Curator of African Art, and the Department of African Art at the Yale University Art Gallery was born. In 2010 the museum received a collection of approximately two hundred African antiquities from Susanna and Joel B. Grae.

The collection is strongest in ritual figures and masks from West and Central Africa, and terracotta antiquities from the Sahel region. There are also several specialized collections, such as Christian crosses from Ethiopia and miniature masks from Liberia. Several ancient African civilizations are represented, including the Djenne, Nok, Bura, Sokoto, Koma, Sapi, and Benin. Some of the outstanding objects in the collection include: from the Sahel area, a Bamana wooden equestrian figure and a Nok male figure with arms upraised; from the Upper Guinea Coast, a Senufo figurative rhythm pounder and a Temne bush cow mask; from the Lower Guinea Coast, an elaborate Ejagham skin-covered headdress and a Fante appliquéd banner; from Central Africa, a Luba female figure with bowl and a Fang female reliquary figure; and from southern Africa, an elegant Zulu stool.

Object of the day: a Songye figure

Songye Torday 1908 British Museum 648x1024 Object of the day: a Songye figure

(image courtesy of The British Museum)

A rare female Songye figure collected by Emil Torday in Lusambo in 1908, currently in the collection of The British Museum (#1908.Ty157). One of my favourite statues of the Songye; it’s head is truly amazing. Note that this specific shape of the lips is always a good indicator that you have an old example at hand.

You can browse the online collections of the British Museum here. Since many object records don’t yet feature a photo, don’t forget to tick the ‘images only’ box. A search on “Torday” gives a nice example of the scope of their holdings. Read more about Emil Torday here or in this book.

Emil Torday Object of the day: a Songye figure

Portrait of Emil Torday holding a dead bird. Original Description: “Mokunji [sp.?] bird tabued by Batetela & Basonge.” (image courtesy of The British Museum)

Auction review: Sotheby’s Paris – June 18, 2013 – Part 2

Though not as dramatic as the sale of the Corlay collection (reviewed here), the second part of the last Sotheby’s Paris auction (18/06/13), with only just more than half of the African lots sold (29 / 56), wasn’t a big success either. 27 lots remained unsold (most notably the Sapi headSenufo couple and Yoruba bowlbearer). Including the premium, 10 objects sold under the estimate (for example the hide Lega mask), 14 within the estimate (for example the golden Baule menage à trois, which had higher expectations) and 5 above the estimate, with special mention to the Crowninshield Baule mask. Estimated at € 120-180K, it sold for € 781K to a telephone bidder in the US. Heavily cleaned and stripped from a fiber beard, it corresponds with a certain modernistic aesthetic which I personally don’t like at all, but which is very popular among many collectors (as proven by its price).

The most important work in the sale was a Songye headrest from the Jean H.W. Verschure collection collected F. Vandevelde before 1891. It didn’t fail to impress and quadrupled its estimate (€ 120-180K), selling for € 505K. The anthropomorphic neckrest did not show much use, but with its exceptional early provenance and counterpart in the Louvre was a one time only opportunity not to be missed.

The most memorable lot for auction in the sale was the Yoruba bowl from the Samir Borro collection. It was estimated at € 1,2-1,4 million but failed to sell. Bidding started at € 800K, went very slow and stopped at € 880K, after which the lot was passed. This final bid would already have been a record price, but apparently the reserve price was even higher. I would have taken the € 880K – already three times its actual value if you ask me.

A personal favourite was this Lower Niger bronze bell. With its 34 cm, this rare bell was very impressive in person. Showing that online bidding is now an integral option, the Luluwa figure was bought by a online viewer for € 32K. Worth a last mention, was a Hemba ancestor figure which was bought by a Belgian dealer for € 121K. If the workmanship of the body had matched the incredible head (in the much loved naturalistic style) this statue could have been sold for more than a million euro.


Sothebys 67 Songye neckrest 885x1024 Auction review: Sotheby’s Paris – June 18, 2013 – Part 2

Sothebys 93 Yoruba bowl Borro 791x1024 Auction review: Sotheby’s Paris – June 18, 2013 – Part 2

94 Baule mask 644x1024 Auction review: Sotheby’s Paris – June 18, 2013 – Part 2

110 Hemba sothebys 498x1024 Auction review: Sotheby’s Paris – June 18, 2013 – Part 2

(all images courtesy of Sotheby’s)