Label question (“Gallery Pro Arte – Bologna, 1973”)

yaka label fantin pro arte bologna suku

One of the big surprises in the last Christie’s sale was the Yaka figure illustrated below (info). While one could easily have overlooked this lot in the auction catalogue, this big and exceptionally strongly carved statue just owned the preview room it was presented in.

Notwithstanding the fact that Christie’s only mentions a private French collection as the provenance of this figure, an old label in Dutch on the base of the figure indicates the statue has much more history; translated it reads:

Collectie Mario Fantin, Bologna, Italy
Mario Fantin was a mountaineer – collector – researcher.
He made a lot of trips to Asia and was the first to succesfully climb the K2 in the Himalaya. He traveled 20 times to Africa and wrote a book about Ivory Coast.
This statue was exhibited in 1973 in Galerie Pro Arte in Bologna and was illustrated on the exhibition’s poster.
In 1983, after the death of Mario Fantin, this statue was acquired by Paolo Morigi.

I was wondering if anyone recognizes this label ? Surely, it can’t be the only one of this type.

Also, I haven’t been able to track down this ‘Pro Arte’ gallery (which apparently was active in Bologna in 1973).

If anyone would have an idea of that exhibition poster, that would be great too.

Prove that Morigi indeed acquired a lot of objects from the Fantin collection can be found in the auction catalogue of the Morigi collection (Sotheby’s, Paris, “Collection Paolo Morigi”, 6 June 2005.): lot 20, 41, 57, 64, 77, 78, 79, 112, 122 and 123 all came from Fantin – so that part of the story is plausible.

Fingers crossed somebody knows more !

UPDATE: Beppe Berna, who runs an African art gallery in Bologna, was so kind to do some research. He checked the yearbooks of the local association of galleries (of which he has been president) of those years and could find no trace of a gallery with the name ‘Pro Arte’. Berna was able to trace three ‘Pro Arte’ galleries: in 1973 there was one in Morges (Switzerland) and one in Mexico City and in 1987 one in Lugano (Switzerland). Strange !


Image courtesy of Christie's.
Image courtesy of Christie’s.

One reply on “Label question (“Gallery Pro Arte – Bologna, 1973”)”

[…] A bit later, the newly discovered Boa mask was sold just under the low estimate at € 97,5K – in my view the facial planes could have been a bit more angular, but the back of the mask did look very good. A personal favorite was the Metoko figure (lot 70). Estimated much too low at € 25-35K, it was bought by a Parisian dealer for € 121,500, which didn’t surprise me since it’s not only rare but also a hell of a sculpture. Notwithstanding the market for ivory being dead in the US, the next three ivories did very well: a rare Hungana ivory figure, est. € 8-12K, was hammered down for € 71K, a rare Songye hair pin (est. € 3-5K) sold for € 21K (info) and a Pende ikhoko was almost sold 100 times the low estimate (!) for € 133,500. Post-sale, this record price was probably even more discussed than the Kota. It’s a good example of what can happen at auction when two interested parties (with deep pockets) want one and the same object and are prepared to go deep – as my mentor Guy van Rijn always used to tell me: it takes two to tango. This result is a record price, of course, does not really reflect the real market value. The Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa holds a (much more worn) example from the same artist (EO.0.0.32155) by the way. Being a great example (with a smiling mouth, which is unique and only found on the works of this master), this pendant was clearly worth more and the estimate was of course too low – even I had considered bidding on it, but it became clear quickly that there was a massive interest in this little gem. When the auctioneer passed the €20K mark, bidding continued between a telephone bidder and a Belgian collector accompanied by a dealer and with each new bid the buzz in the room only increased. Not much later, a standard Suku helmet was bought by a Belgian dealer for € 97,5K (est. €15-25K). Another surprise, at least for some, was the result of lot 76, a superb Yaka figure that sold for more than four times its low estimate at €43,5K. I have written about it before here. […]