Auctions News

Catalogue online: “African and Oceanic Art”, Christie’s, Paris, 22 November 2017

I’m proud to announce the catalogue for our African and Oceanic Art sale of 22 November in Pars is now online; you can find it here. As the appetite for Oceanic art has never been so strong, we actively sourced top material to be included in this sale. We’re very proud of the result, with more than half of the sale being Oceanic in nature and many exceptional objects one rarely encounters at auction (for example the Fiji statue, the Tahiti statue, the Hawaiian game board, and especially the Hawaiian god staf). The African art section is also very strong, including one of the most iconic Dan masks known (shown during African Negro Art at the MOMA in 1935), a top-notch Songye kifwebe mask (never on public view before), and of course the cover lot: an ancient Northern Hemba statue once owned by Jacques Kerchache – an exceptional masterpiece in an amazing condition for its age. There are much more goodies in the sale of course, but I’ll let you discover them yourselves. Now that this catalogue is ready, it is finally time for this blog to come out of hibernation mode! It’s my hope to be able to post more frequently again and I regret not having more time to spend writing for the blog. I hope to see you in Paris for the preview, the dates:

15 Nov, 10am – 6pm
16 Nov, 10am – 6pm
17 Nov, 10am – 6pm
18 Nov, 10am – 6pm
19 Nov, 2pm – 6pm
20 Nov, 10am – 6pm
21 Nov, 10am – 2pm
Sale 22 Nov, 4 pm

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any assistance.

Museums News

The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquires a Hemba figure (DRC)

Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Great news from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; they just acquired one of the most important Hemba ancestor figures (singiti) still in private hands (all details here). While they already had a great Boyo figure, a Hemba was surprisingly still missing from their collection – not anymore.

Height: 78 cm. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2015.119).
Height: 78 cm. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2015.119).

You might recognize this majestic statue, as it was the back cover of François Neyt’s classic study La Grande Statuaire Hemba du Zaire (1977) – also published on pages 258-259 (Luika River region).

The provenance of this singiti (as with many Hemba figures) starts with Pierre Dartevelle, who bought it in the 1970s in Lubumbashi – the time most of them came out. He sold it to the Belgian collector/dealer Jacques Blanckaert around 1977, who kept it about a decade and then sold it to the Italian collector Luciano Lanfranchi. In 2004, US collector Jane Katcher acquired it via Entwistle, who now also mediated in the purchase by the Metropolitan. It was bought with the financial help of the same Jane and Gerald Katcher, Lila Acheson Wallace, the Gulton Foundation, Hamilton E. James, and Steven Kossak – cheers to them.

As you can see on the picture below, the statue already got installed in gallery 352 of the museum – just in time for the happenings next week. You can see another recent acquisition of the museum, the Bamileke throne of Njouteu* (info), leaving the scene – it is being moved to a new spot and will remain on view.

*another fascinating story; the female figure standing on top only was acquired and reattached to the stool 15 years after the owner had bought the throne.

Photo by Yaëlle Biro.
Photo by Yaëlle Biro via her Twitter account.

If you want to learn more about Hemba figures, I recommend chapter VI, “Sublime Chiefs and the Persistence of Memory: The Hemba” (pp. 224-270), of Heroic Africans – Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculpture, the catalogue of Alisa LaGamma’s 2011 exhibition on the subject that brought together the best Hemba figures in existence – except for this new purchase (!) and the one from the Vanderstraete collection.

Exhibtions Museums News

“Embodiments” – African art from the Scheller collection at the de Young (2015)

Nkundu Figure. Collection Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Richard H. Scheller. (2013.78.5. ) & Fang Figure. Scheller collection (L13.34.1.) Pictures by Robert A. Kato.
Nkundu Figure. Collection Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Richard H. Scheller (2013.78.5) & Fang Figure. Scheller collection (L13.34.1). Ex Paul Guillaume. Pictures by Robert A. Kato.

Embodiments: Masterworks of African Figurative Sculpture, organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, will run from January 31, 2015 to July 5, 2015 and presents 120 pieces from the collection of Richard H. Scheller. It will be composed of classic and iconic sculptures as well as more unusual examples that challenge commonly held assumptions about African art; approximately 110 cultural groups will be represented. From this interview with Mr. Scheller we learn that he has already given certain pieces to the de Young (as the Nkundu figure above), and that it is his intent that the pieces of the exhibition will be given to the de Young in the future. The collection was assembled over nearly 30 years and many of the objects have never been exhibited before – so it’s certainly something to look forward too. Turns out that the Hemba figure on the front cover of Alisa LaGamma’s Heroic Ancestors is also in the Scheller collection.

Image courtesy of Richard Scheller.
Hemba figure. Image courtesy of Richard Scheller.

Auction review: Sotheby’s Paris – June 18, 2013 – Part 2

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 headSenufo 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.


Sotheby's 67 Songye neckrest

Sotheby's 93 Yoruba bowl Borro

94 Baule mask

110 Hemba sotheby's

(all images courtesy of Sotheby’s)