Category Archives: Auctions

Seward Kennedy’s Cabinet of Curiosities to be sold by Christie’s London

seward-kennedy-collection-of-curiosities-christies-london-cover

On 22 November 2016, Christie’s London will be selling Seward Kennedy’s Cabinet of Curiosities info). This eclectic collection includes a group of African and Oceanic ‘curiosities’ as well; starting with lot 144, a very nice Zande shield from D.R. Congo. You can browse the catalogue here. Below a nice portrait of the man (click to zoom).

seward-kennedy-collection-of-curiosities-christies-london

Victor Teodorescu joins the African and Oceanic Art Department of Christie’s

victor-teodorescu-joins-christies-african-and-oceanic-art-department

I’m very happy to announce that Victor Teodorescu has joined the African & Oceanic department of Christie’s Paris. You might heard the name, as he worked for the African and Oceanic art department of the German auction house Lempertz for the last 5,5 years; since 2012 becoming the co-head of their annual sales in Brussels together with Tim Teuten. In fact, Victor, who has a master’s degree in both philosophy and art history, started his professional career in 2009 at Christie’s Belgium – so he’s back where it all began. Victor will reinforce our growing department, with me continuing to share my time between France and Belgium, Susan Kloman, our International director based in New York, and Pierre Amrouche, consultant. Victor is a welcome addition to our strengthening team, and I look forward to his contributions to our department’s continued success.

Christie’s to sell the Madeleine Meunier Collection on 15 December 2016

Madeleine Meunier et Charles Ratton. Image copyright of the Archives familiales Ratton.

Madeleine Meunier and Charles Ratton. Image courtesy of the Archives familiales Ratton.

On December 15th in Paris at the Hôtel Drouot, Christie’s, in cooperation with the French auction house Millon, will be offering nearly 80 objects of African and Oceanic art from the estate of Madeleine Meunier. The appearance on the market of the Madeleine Meunier estate has been eagerly awaited. In recent years, speculation about the content of this collection has taken on mythic proportions, because Meunier was married, successively, to two great figures in the world of African art: Aristide Courtois and Charles Ratton. Each played a major role in the discovery of African art, Courtois in Africa and Ratton in Paris.

Aristide Courtois (1883-1962), a French colonial administrator in the Congo, brought back hundreds of objects acquired during his assignments in the regions where he was stationed. Having an exceptional eye for distinguishing between masterpieces and ordinary objects, Courtois was one of the first colonial administrators to see these ritual objects as true works of art. Once back in Paris, Courtois worked with the first great African art dealer, Paul Guillaume, with whom he would conduct many transactions. Courtois married Madeleine Meunier in 1938 and the couple had a daughter, Annie. Madeleine Meunier kept a number of works from this period in her life: three Kota reliquaries from Gabon and four major works of Kuyu art from the Northern Congo, all collected by Aristide Courtois. Upon Guillaume’s death in 1934, Courtois developed ties with Charles Ratton, who became a loyal customer and purchased many pieces from Courtois. Ratton’s purchase records from 1938 to 1943 list some two hundred transactions, including the famous six-eyed Kwele mask known as the “Lapicque mask”, now part of the collections at the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac.

A few years later, Madeleine Courtois separated from her husband to marry Charles Ratton. Meunier would have a son with Ratton: the recently deceased Charles-François Ratton. Charles Ratton (1897-1986) – who was honoured with an exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in 2013 – had a significant impact on the history of African art by virtue of his talents as an expert, collector and dealer. He played a fundamental role in raising so-called primitive objects to the ranks of true art. Sensitive and erudite, Ratton forged a path as a dealer for ‘Haute Époque’ (Medieval and Renaissance) objects, which led to an interest in African arts, then antiques from South Seas and the Americas, and, atypical for the time, Eskimo art. In 1935, he was a major lender and advisor to the landmark African Negro Art exhibition (Museum of Modern Art, New York), the first African arts show held in a museum of modern art. Ever seeking new opportunities to place African art on the forefront, he included his Yaka headrest (estimate: €40,000-60,000) at an exhibition at the Théâtre Edouard VII in Paris in 1936 celebrating the film premiere of The Green Pastures. Ratton also served as artistic advisor to the renowned 1953 film Les Statues Meurent Aussi (‘Statues Also Die’), directed by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais for Présence Africaine (it was the subject of an exhibition at the Monnaie de Paris in 2010). Two pieces from the Meunier collection appear in this film, whose whereabouts remained a secret for the past fifty years: Charles Ratton’s superb Fang male on a base by Inagaki (estimated value: € 300,000-500,000) and a Luba-Shankadi headrest (estimate: €500,000-800,000). This masterpiece can be attributed to the most renowned sculptor of the pre-colonial period: The Master of the Cascade Coiffure, active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 19th century. Other headrests by this master carver can be found in important museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (#1981.399), the British Museum (#AF46.481) and the Ethnological Museum of Berlin (III.C.19987).

Other great objects formerly in the collection of Charles Ratton are an exceptional Hungana pendant (estimate: €15,000-25,000), an exquisite little Vili figure (estimate: € 3,000-5,000) and two Sepik River works from Papua New Guinea, probably acquired from Pierre Loeb, including a four-caryatid headrest estimated at €30,000-40,000. Below you can find some non-professional pictures of our preview last week (click on the images to zoom). Concomitantly with Parcours des Mondes, we exhibited a small selection of highlights of the Meunier collection together with the Old Master Paintings and French antiques that were being sold this week – which worked surprisingly well and succeeded in attracting the attention of collectors that normally would never look at African and Oceanic art.

collection-madeleine-meunier-christies-paris-charles-ratton-fang

collection-madeleine-meunier-christies-paris-charles-ratton-luba-shankadi-yaka

img_1662

collection-madeleine-meunier-christies-paris-charles-ratton-sepik-kota-pende-tiki-hungana

 

Ronald Reagan’s Dan figure to be sold by Christie’s

Ronald Reagan Christie's African art catalogue

On 21 and 22 September 2016, Christie’s will be selling the private collection of president Ronald Reagan in New York. To my surprise the collection includes an African object! This Dan statue (illustrated below) was once in the family residence of the Reagans in the White House, Washington D.C. Surely there must be a photo somewhere showing the statue there. Unfortunately the provenance of the statue remains undocumented, but I would guess it was a diplomatic gift – Reagan did meet Liberian president Samuel K. Doe in 1982, celebrating 120 years of diplomatic relations.

Image courtesy of Click Christie's.

Dan figure (Liberia). Wood. Height: 20 in. (51 cm). Est. $ 8,000-12,000. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

This female statue can be attributed to the workshop of the artist Zlan (or Sran) of Belewale (Liberia), without doubt one of the most famous Dan-Wè artists of the first half of the 20th century. The influence of his unique style was felt in Dan, Mano and Wè towns in Liberia and Ivory Coast. Zlan’s career is well documented by Hans Himmelheber: he carved for many wealthy men and chiefs, teaching many pupils from both the Dan and Wè peoples. This large number of apprentices, copying the work of their master meticulously makes it hard to identify the hand of Zlan with absolute certainty. Unique among the Dan, one of the wives of Zlan is also know to have carved spoons and other objects in his style as well. Eberhard Fisher wrote extensively about Zlan in “Les Maîtres de la sculpture de Côte d’Ivoire” (Paris, 2015: pp. 128-138).

ps You can browse the complete catalogue of the Reagan sale here. There are some other amazing objects in the collection, for example “an evocative relic symbolizing one of president Reagan’s greatest foreign policy achievements: a signed fragment of the Berlin wall” 🙂  More than 700 pieces of historic and personal memorabilia will go up for sale!

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:

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

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.