Auctions News

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..

Auctions Collectors News

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.

Auctions News

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.

Auctions Objects Research

Object of the day: a Luba-Shankadi headrest of the “Master of the Cascade Coiffures”

Luba-Shankadi headrest Master of the Cascade Coiffures Blum

One of the highlights of the upcoming Christie’s sale is the above Luba-Shankadi headrest from the Blum collection. Rudolf and Leonore Blum acquired it 19 years ago (on 4 May 1995) at Sotheby’s New York for $ 46,000. Now, this beautiful headrest is estimated at € 200,000-300,000 – which is a rather low estimate, especially if you know that Sotheby’s sold a similar headrest for € 1,524,000 in 2006 (info) and another example of this workshop in 2005 for € 1,356,000.

Ezio Bassani wrote an interesting note on this lot in the catalogue:

My first encounter with the work of this sculptor goes back to more than forty years ago, to the mid-seventies, when I compiled the catalogue of African sculpture in Italian museums[1]. In the Museo di Antropologia ed Etnografia in Florence, I began to study a headrest created by a great miniaturist[2]. It was accessioned in 1902, and had been collected the previous year (according to the record of the Florentine institution) in the village of Kicondja on Lake Kisale, by Ernesto Brissoni, Italian member of the Force Public in the, then Belgian, Congo colony.

The offered Blum headrest is part of a small group of works to whom William Fagg and Margaret Plass, when studying one of these headrests in 1964, gave the name of “Master of the Cascade Coiffures”[3], justified by the monumental coiffure with two enormous wings of supreme elegance, which enrich and crown each of its figures. This element, apparently spectacular when seen in reality, was well-noted by the European explorers, who travelled the Western Congolese regions in the nineteenth-century.

Today the headrests attributed to a limited group of great artists – no more than three or four – working in the small kingdom of Kinkondja, according to the localization by François Neyt[4], are eighteen: eleven with a single caryatid; one with a human being riding an animal with very long body and horns (a sort of goat according to Neyt); six headrests with two face-to-face caryatids; four as the previous ones, and two with different coiffures: one in the cascade shape and the other cruciform fret-worked, a typology which relates to the Hemba, eastern neighbours of the Luba.

This last work, put on sale for the first time, by Sotheby’s of New York, on 4th May 1995, was collected, according to the information supplied by the owner, by his father in 1907, a year which places the piece in the period of acquisition of the group of documented headrests: Florence 1901, Berlin 1904, Philadelphia (exhibited) 1908, Bulawayo 1910, London 1913. A legend under the base of the carving reads: “Repose nuque – pour preserver la coiffure identique celle de l’objet – pice rare”, i.e. “Headrest – to save the hairdress identical to that of the object – rare piece”.

1 Bassani 1977.
2 Inv: n 8312
3 W.Fagg and M. Plass 1964, p. 88.
4 Neyt 1993, p. 177-187.


Bassani E., Il maestro delle capigliagture a cascata, “Critica d’Arte”, 1976, fasc: n 148-149, p.75-87.
Bassani E., Africa – capolavori da un continente, Firenze 2003.
De Maret P., Dery M., Murdoch C., The Luba Shankady Style, “African Arts”, 1973, vol VII, n 1, note p. 88.
Fagg W. and Plass M., African Sculpture, London 1964.
Neyt F., Luba – Aux sources du Zaire, Paris 1993.

Below a rare field-photo showing the aforementioned ‘cascade coiffure’.

The Luba-Shankadi hairstyle in the village of N'Gobo. Photographed by François Léopold Michel in 1899. Image courtesy of RMCA, AP.0.0.1227).
The Luba-Shankadi hairstyle in the village of N’Gobo. Photographed by François Léopold Michel in 1899. Image courtesy of RMCA, AP.0.0.1227).