Above a Baule mask that will be sold by Christie’s New York on 4-5 November 2013. Forming part of the A Dialogue Through Art: Works from The Jan Krugier Collection sale, the mask is expected to fetch between $ 500,000-800,000 at auction. Published in Rubin’s Primitivism in 20th Century Art. Affinities of the Tribal and the Modern (p. 360), it belonged to André Breton before arriving in the hands of Pablo Picasso. It was inherited by Marina Picasso, who later sold it to Jan Krugier (1928-2008) – once the world’s foremost Pablo Picasso dealer. Read more about his life and the sale of his collection here.
Highlighting the African art of Jan Krugier’s expansive collection is a Baule mask that has come to be known the Krugier-Picasso mask in honor of two of its proud owners, Krugier and Picasso. Nowhere in the genesis of the Modern Art movement at the beginning of the 20th century is the profound influence of African art more apparent, powerful and consistently resonant than in the work of Picasso. This mask is a transcendent force of sculptural energy, with a vibrancy so apparent as to rival Picasso’s most famous muses. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) clearly and famously defined the mask association, which he then powerfully harnessed as a constant motif in nearly every aspect of his œuvre. Based on the strong plasticity of the mask, its appeal to André Breton, another owner of this work, and later Picasso is evident. Here the image of a bushcow is transformed into an architectonic state – imposingly rectilinear and yet full of expansive movement. The semi-circular mouth with pointed tongue appears in several of Picasso’s paintings, most notably Guernica (1937), where tortured bovines tangle with human figures. The Picasso-Krugier mask thereby represents a major axis upon which much of Picasso’s work revolved – the abstraction of African art itself, the mask and the bull.
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 head, Senufo 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.
(all images courtesy of Sotheby’s)