Category Archives: Auctions

Christie’s, Paris, 4 April 2017: African, Oceanic and American Indian art from the Laprugne Collection & Various Owners

I’m proud to officially announce our next auction on April 4th 2017. The first part of this sale will be dedicated to the Laprugne collection (comprising 79 lots), and the second section will present objects from various owners. Now at the vanguard of the auction season, Christie’s’ African and Oceanic Art department has shifted its auction calendar to coincide better with the rhythm of the market. Coinciding with the highly anticipated opening of the “Picasso Primitif” exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, it surely will be worth a trip to Paris.

Built over several decades, the Laprugne collection spans all continents and is the lifework of Mr. and Mrs. Laprugne. Starting in the 1970s, Jean-Pierre Laprugne ran the Parisian gallery ‘Mazarine 52’, which specialized in African and Oceanic art. In his early twenties, abandoning his position as a teacher early on, Jean-Pierre Laprugne saw it as his life mission to save these works of art from oblivion and reveal their origins and artistic merits in his gallery. In a classical French tradition, he honed his knowledge through tireless visits to flea markets at dawn and a large network of amateurs which he also frequently met at Hotel Drouot. Over time, this would yield countless treasures. His gallery quickly became a popular meeting spot in the Saint-Germain quarter thanks to Jean-Pierre’s knowledge, open mind and good humor. He inspired a whole generation of likeminded collectors and dealers with his contagious passion. Through the years he was able to build up an exquisite private collection, discretely safeguarding the masterpieces he found for his private sanctuary. At the heart of his collection is a unique group of 7 Kota reliquary figures from Gabon, displaying the unique diversity these guardian figures can show (see the teaser photo above). This exciting collection contains many more unseen and unpublished treasures never before on the market.

The sale of the Laprugne collection continues into the various owners sale, including two dedicated sections. A first group of objects, all miniatures under 20 centimeters, demonstrates the virtuosity of African artists when sculpting small-scale objects. A second section presents a carefully selected group of African and Oceanic masks from the highest quality showing the incredible creativity in the reinvention of the human face. Amongst these masks, a rediscovered archaic Sepik River mask from Papua New Guinea which has remained in the same family since being acquired at the famous auction of the collection of André Lefèvre in 1965. With these focused selections we respond to the current market’s desire to explore categories in-depth. Normally considered in the context of a museum, this comparative approach represents a fresh perspective in the auction model to appeal to seasoned collectors and new audiences alike.

The viewing days are:

Wednesday 29 March: 10am-6pm
Thursday 30 March: 10am-6pm
Friday 31 March: 10am-6pm
Saturday 1 April: 10am-6pm
Sunday 2 April: 2pm-6pm
Monday 3 April: 10am-6pm
Tuesday 4 April: 10am-1pm

The sale will take place on Tuesday April 4th at 4pm. Hope to see you there!

ps click here for an interview with Jean-Pierre Laprugne from 2003.

SAVE THE DATE: Collection X, Christie’s, Paris, 4 April 2017


Please mark your calendar, the next Christie’s sale of African, Oceanic and Northern American Art will take place on Tuesday April 4th at 4pm. Highlights will also be on view mid-March during the preview days of the Impressionist and Modern art sale. Also during TEFAF Maastricht, a small selection of objects will be on view in our Paris HQ.  If you would find yourself earlier in Paris, please note that we’re always open during weekdays and happy to give you a private preview of the objects in our upcoming sales. We’re at your service.

The viewing days are:

Wednesday 29 March: 10am-6pm
Thursday 30 March: 10am-6pm
Friday 31 March: 10am-6pm
Saturday 1 April: 10am-6pm
Sunday 2 April: 2pm-6pm
Monday 3 April: 10am-6pm
Tuesday 4 April: 10am-1pm

Yes, we’re moving away from the tradition of having our sale in June to be at the vanguard of the spring season. In fact, we’ll have two sales: an unknown private collection full of treasures and a various owners sale with two curated sections – more info coming soon… In total we’ll be offering more than 150 objects, in all price ranges and from across the world, so it surely will be worth a trip to Paris.

Historic results for the historic sale of the Madeleine Meunier collection

I’m very proud to report about my first “White Glove Sale” (an auction in which every single lot sells, for a perfect 100 percent sell-through rate): Aristide Courtois, Charles Ratton: At the heart of the Madeleine Meunier Collection, sold by Christie’s, in collaboration with Millon, last week in Paris. You can find the pdf of the catalogue here.

The sale made a total of € 4,5 million, doubling the pre-sale total high estimate! You can browse the results here. Many world records were broken, the star of the show of course being the beautifully complex Luba-Shankadi headrest of the Master of the Cascade Coiffure that graced the front cover. This masterpiece of African art was sold to a distinguished private collector for € 2,295,078 – a new record for a work of this artist.

I intentionally used the word ‘historic’ two times in this posts’ title, because it truly was such a moment. Never again will we see a collection like this appear at auction. None of these objects had been on the market before and all had passed through the hands of two important champions of African art: Aristide Courtois and Charles Ratton. It was a privilege for me to work with such a collection and very rewarding to see that everybody was at the appointment; thanks for your interest and participation.

These objects are in fact just at the beginning of their ‘career’; none of them had been published or exhibited before, but I’m sure we’ll see many of them again soon. Carefully safeguarded by Madeleine Meunier for almost half a century, these treasures surely will bring much joy to their new owners.

At Meunier’s specific request the sale took place at Drouot, where Charles Ratton himself had organized so many historic auctions, and this resulted in a very special atmosphere in the packed auction room during the sale. From the start, one object after the other shattered its estimate. Of course we deliberately had kept these low to stimulate the bidders’ enthusiasm, which resulted in some intense bidding wars – just like in the good old days. There surely was a lot of passion in the room! Also during the viewing days, it was such a delight to meet and discuss the objects with so many passionate collectors, scholars and dealers.

To finish, my favorite view of the exhibition: our ‘Kuyu’ room, highlighting the 2 Kuyu statues and 2 Kuyu heads collected by Aristide Courtois in Congo Brazzaville, here presented together for a very last time (after being together for almost a century) before they parted ways..

Auction surprise of the month: a rediscovered Austral Islands necklace


Austral Islands necklaces are among the rarest and most sought after of all Polynesian artifacts. It was thus no surprise that when a newly discovered example popped up in a small auction in the UK, listed as an ‘ethnic carved bone and antler necklace’ and with an estimate of only £60-100, it was sold for £125,000 (including premium).

The lucky seller runs a house clearance firm and found the item among the contents of an empty property he had been tasked to clear. He had no idea of its value and arrived at a jumble sale with a view of selling it for £15. But he had a change of heart at the last moment and decided to pop across the road to an auction house for experts there to have a look at. They believed it to be an 18th century ethnic carved bone and antler necklace and told him it might be worth between £60 and £100. However, Auctioneer Chris Ewbank started to suspect he underestimated the item in the days leading up to the sale when potential buyers booked up phone lines and left preliminary bids. And when it went under the hammer on 2 December at Ewbank’s Auctions of Surrey (UK), three bidders forced the bidding up to a staggering £99,000. With fees added on the Paris-based winning bidder will pay £125,000 for it.


Mr Ewbank reacted in this interview: “It is what we in the business call a sleeper, it came out of nowhere. It can make the auctioneer look slightly silly because they failed to spot a gem. There’s no point in trying to hide the fact that we got this one wrong.” In 2010, Sotheby’s sold a similar necklace from the Niagara Falls Museum for £ 200,000. Julien Harding wrote in the catalogue note:

The iconic status of these ornaments is enhanced by a certain mystery which has surrounded their place of origin. In establishing this it will be helpful to begin with the “testicle” pendants which are known in a variety of sizes and materials (ivory, bone, wood). In the official account of Captain Cook’s last voyage we find a description of the natives of Atiu, one of the southern Cook Islands: “Some, who were of a superior class, and also the Chiefs, had two little balls, with a common base, made from the bone of some animal, which hung round the neck, with a great many folds of small cord” (Cook, 1784).
William Wyatt Gill of the London Missionary Society noted that such objects were worn as ear ornaments by the chiefs of Mangaia, the southernmost of the Cook Islands (Gill,1894).
Later, E.L.Gruning, who lived in the Cook Islands from 1905 to 1914, carried out an exploration of Atiu during which he had himself lowered into a cave of unknown depth at the end of a makeshift liana rope. His courage was rewarded by the discovery of human skeletons and two “phallic ornaments”, one suspended from braided human hair, in the manner of a Hawaiian lei niho palaoa. He notes that these ornaments “are reputed to have been worn only by champion warriors of the island, who had the right of possessing any woman, married or single, while wearing one” (Gruning, 1937). The term “phallic”, used by several authors to describe these pendants, is of course a mistake. They may well represent testicles but certainly not a phallus.
It is thus certain that individual testicle pendants were worn as chiefly ornaments in at least two of the Cook Islands in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Very possibly they were similarly used in the neighbouring Austral Islands since there was canoe contact, both deliberate and accidental, between the island groups.
If we now turn to the composite necklaces themselves we find the evidence of origin much less clear, no doubt because early records for the Austral Islands are extremely sparse. In his monumental Album (1890) Edge-Partington published a fine example, attributing it to Mangaia (plate17, no.2). Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter Buck, 1944) gave a detailed account based on the ten necklaces known to him and held in various institutions: British Museum (2), Cambridge University Museum, England (2), Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh (1), Boulogne Museum (1), Peabody Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1) and the Oldman Collection (3). He also attributes these necklaces to Mangaia, but suggests a close connection with Rurutu in the Austral group. Significantly, Buck states that the pig was unknown in Mangaia but was present in Rurutu (ibid.).
More recently Roger Duff pointed firmly to the Australs as the origin for these necklaces on the basis of old missionary attributions for three examples not known to Buck. Two, now in the Canterbury Museum, New Zealand, were previously in the Wisbech Museum, England, where they were described as “Necklaces from Rurutu, Austral Islands. Composed of the fibres of cocoanut, human hair and bones; worn as a memorial of friendship. Rev. Wm. Ellis 26.8.1841”. Duff notes that a third necklace, in the Saffron Walden Museum, England, is also attributed to the Australs and specifically to the island of Tupua’i (Duff, 1969).
A persuasive argument in favour of the Austral Islands derives from comparative morphology. The famous figure of A’a in the British Museum (Harding, 1994) is certainly from the Australs – it was given up to John Williams of the London Missionary Society in 1821 by a party of Rurutu islanders. The small figures (“demigods”) carved on this sculpture closely resemble those on a whalebone bowl of typical Australs form (Oldman collection no. 476, now in the Auckland Museum). This bowl has a handle in the form of two pig figures identical in style to the one on the present necklace.
Thus, on the available evidence, we can safely attribute these beautiful necklaces to the Austral Islands, those specks of land to the south of Tahiti which produced some of the finest art of the Pacific. The Australs culture, briefly glimpsed by Captain Cook in 1769 and again in 1777, was more or less intact when Fletcher Christian and the other Bounty mutineers arrived there in 1787. Missionary influence and introduced diseases effectively destroyed the old way of life and today this is merely a remote corner of French Polynesia with a total population of 6500 and virtually no trace of the original culture. The survival of a few Australs masterpieces, such as the necklace offered here, is of the greatest importance. These objects are silent witnesses to a tradition of superb craftsmanship which has disappeared for ever.
The necklace may be compared with three examples in the Oldman collection (illustrated in Oldman, 1943, plate 21, nos. 477, 478, 479) and with three in the Hooper collection (illustrated in Phelps, 1976, plate 83, nos. 654, 655, 656). Understandably, very few Australs necklaces have ever appeared at auction. One of the Hooper examples (no.654) was sold at Christie’s, London, June 17, 1980. After many years in the De Menil collection this reappeared at Sotheby’s, New York, auction on November 22, 1998. Another Hooper necklace (no. 656, the Edge-Partington example previously mentioned) was sold by Christie’s, London, July 3, 1990.

Catalogue Madeleine Meunier Collection Online


I’m very proud to announce that our new catalogue is ready; you can find it online on this page. Now you know why it had been so silent on these pages these last few weeks 🙂 It has been an honor to work on this historical collection; one truly felt the spirit of Charles Ratton holding the objects he once cherished. In 2014, when I wrote about the Master of the Cascade Coiffure on this blog (here), I could not imagine I would once be so closely involved in the sale of a long lost work of this master carver myself. Besides the obvious masterpieces, even the ‘smaller’ works of this sale are able to fascinate – I highlighted some in an interview with Aurore Krier-Mariani on the Imo Dara blog here – and it is our hope that all types of collectors (with all kinds of budgets) will be able to participate in the dissemination of this important collection.

Note that at the specific wish of Madeleine Meunier the sale will take place at Drouot in Paris. From 9 to 13 December, everything will be on view at the Christie’s headquarters in Paris, before moving to Drouot, where there’s an additional viewing on 14 and 15 December. The sale is on 15 December at 6:30pm. I hope to see you in Paris – do let me know if I can be of any assistance.

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


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).


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


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.






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.