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Tribal Art

Sotheby's

10:15 AM, November 14, 2003

Sale 7942

Fang mask

Lot 68, Fang mask, 14 inches high

By Carter B. Horsley

This Tribal Art auction at Sotheby's November 14, 2003 is highlighted by several fine masks amd sculptures including a superb Fang mask, a Diula metal mask, two Kongo power figures, a Bembe nail fetish, an important Hemba male ancestor figure, a rare Tabwa maternity figure, a Fang female reliquary guardian figure, a Azande figure, a Yoruba male shango shrine figure, a Cross River brass figure, a Mende messenger's staff, and a Dogon staff, and an Ejagham headcrest.

The most striking work is Lot 68, a "superb" Fang mask, or Ngontang, that is notable for its stylized moustache and its marvelous surface that is thinly coated with a layer of kaolin. The 14 -inch-high mask was once in the collection of Guy Montbarbon of Paris and is quite magnificent.

The catalogue notes that "Fang masks of this type are iconic in the lexicon of African art," adding that "They are particularly recognizable from the well-documented dialogue between African Art and the Modern art movement of the early twentieth century. This style of mask, so characteristic and specific the oval facial plane, the lenticular mouth and close-set eyes is thought to be the work of a single carver or atelier active at the turn-of-the-century in Gabon, a time when most of these masks are subsequently recorded in European collections."

It has a conservative estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $78,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

Crouching Kongo power figure

Lot 78, a "fine" Kongo power figure, 16 inches high, layered and encrusted dark brown patina with areas of ochre pigment

There are two impressive Kongo power figures, Lots 78 and 87. The former is unusual for its crouching pose with muscular arms grasping the knees and a single metal spike inserted at the sternum. The 16 -inch figure has a layered and encrusted dark brown patina with areas of ochre pigment. The work was collected by a French Navy commissar and returned to Paris before 1880. It has a mirror at the center. The lot has an estimate of $35,000 to $45,000. It sold for $36,000.

Kongo power figure

Lot 87, a "magnificent" Kongo power figure, 22 inches high, varied and encrusted blackened patina with traces of red ochre

Some of the most powerful African works are noise in which figures have been prominently "nailed," an example of which is Lot 87, a "magnificent" Kongo power figure that is 22 inches high and has a varied and encrusted blackened patina with traces of red ochre. This type of figure is known as a nkisi nkondi and has its torso inset with many iron nails and fragmentary blades that encircle a hollowed rectangular cavity at the center. The catalogue notes that "blades and nails are inserted into these power figures as a means to resolve conflict." "The healer, nganga, may have the parties involved in the arbitration lick the blades before they are inserted, thus binding them to their oaths. This measure is visually symbolized by the aggressive extended tongue on the offered lot which is further highlighted with red pigment. Each blade is a condensation of the words and oaths of the conflict at hand, mambu. Further, the figure stands with his hands on his hips, the pakalala gesture, symbolizing its readiness to take on any dispute."

The lot, which has inset oval porcelain eyes, has an estimate of $70,000 to $100,000. It sold for $84,000.

Bembe nail fetish

Lot 77, a "rare" Bembe nail fetish, 21 5/8 inches high

A similar figure, albeit, from a different region and one that is missing its feet, is Lot 77, a "rare" Bembe nail fetish that is 21 5/8 inches high. Collected in 1915 by Jacques Roquet, the governor of the French Congo, has a torso that is decorated with raised asymmetrical scarification. The head is notable for the pronounced beard. It has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $30,000.

Lot 82 is an "important" Hemba male ancestor figure that is 24 3/8 inches high. The catalogue notes that "the majestic figure" rises from fragmentary legs and wears a woven cloth beneath a protruding abdomen. It has a "sensitively carved face encircled by a dentil-molded beard, the noble expression highlighted by downcast eyes beneath arching brows and a sweeping forehead to the back, and wearing an elegant ornate backswept cruciform coiffure," the catalogue continued, adding that it has an "exceptionally fine, layered encrusted dark brown patina." The catalogue also observes that this figure "stylistically can be placed in the zone south of the Luika River to the east of the Zaire River in the Yambula chefferie."

It has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $209,360.

Tabwa maternity figure

Lot 95, a Tabwa maternity figure, 20 inches high, fine dark brown patina

Strong as Lot 82 is, it cannot compare with Lot 95, a "fine and rare" Tabwa maternity figure that is 20 inches high. This exquisite sculpture of a mother carrying a child on her back comes from the collection of Deborah Stokes Hammer of Chicago. It had been collected in the Ujiji region around 1880 and given by Victor Wright to the Royal Scottish Museum in 1924. The Denver Art Museum acquired it 1949 and it was subsequently acquired by Ernst Anspach of New York and shown in an exhibition of his collection at the Museum of Primitive Art in New York in 1967-8. This is a very fine work and has a very conservative estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for 33,000.

Ejagham headcrest

Lot 44, an Ejagham headcrest, 13 inches high

Lot 44 is an Ejagham headcrest that is extremely powerful. The 13-inch-high work rises from a hollowed, domed base with a bastketry attachment and the anthropomorphic figure is in a crouching position with bent articulated legs and arms with an open mouth with raised coffee bean eyes inset with kaolin beneath what the catalogue describes as a "severe brow and coiffure comprised of a series of vertical raised nodules; the whole overlaid by skin, fine blackened patina. The memorable work was collected by Phillipe Guimiot in the 1960s and is very, very conservatively estimated at $3,000 to $4,000 since it is one of the finest works in the auction. It failed to sell.

Azande figure

Lot 74, an Azande figure, 10 inches high

Another excellent work is Lot 74, a "rare" Azande figure from the estate of Harold and Florence Rome. The 10 -inch-high figure has a narrow waist encircled by a metal ring and a protruding navel encircled by metal. The diamond-shaped head is notable for its deeply notched coiffure and the ears are pierced for the attachment of the cascading metal rings that seem disportionately large. It has an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000. It sold for $45,000.

Cross River brass female figure

Lot 43, Cross River brass female figure, 9 inches high

A good companion for Lot 74 is Lot 43, a "rare" Cross River brass female figure decorated with repeating spiral motifs and traces of red ochre. The catalogue notes that "Examples of Cross River bronzes have been tested by thermoluminescence, dating them to as early as the mid-17th Century," adding that according to one expert "in the Cross River region the lost-wax casting method appears to have died out towards the end of the 19th Century." This lot has a modest estimate of $5,000 to $7,000. It sold for $7,800.

Fang female reliquary guardian figure

Lot 69, Fang female reliquary guardian figure

Lot 69 in a very imposing Fang female reliquary guardian figure that is 23 inches high and was collected in Gabon in 1925 by Dr. Landet, an ethnographer. The work, which has a fine aged and varied blackened patina, is notable for the muscular treatment of the upper arms and for the superb head. The catalogue notes that the "magnificent" work may date to the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $250,000. It sold for $187,200.

Diula metal mask

Lot 39, a Diula metal mask, 12 inches high

Lot 39 is a "fine and rare" Diula metal mask that was once in the Jay C. Leff Collection, which was exhibited at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1969-1970. The catalogue notes that are only 15 known examples of this type of mask, which is made of European pewter, a combination of tin and lead and overlaid with alternating brass and copper strips. This handsome note has a modest estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $24,000.

Lot 11 is a fine and "rare" Mende messenger's staff that was collected by the Rev. and Mrs. J. M. Lesher in Sierra Leone, circa 1995. The 28-inch-high sculpture is surmounted by a hat. This is a very nice work and has a modest estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. It sold for $9,600.

Dogon staff

Lot 7, a Dogon staff, 18 inches high

One of the most interesting works in the auction is Lot 7, a "fine " Dogon staff that is 18 inches high. It is comprised of three figures. It was photographed by Marcel Griaule in the field in 1935 most likely during his third mission to Maili. It has a modest estimate of $7,000 to $10,000. It sold for $27,000.

See The City Review article on the Spring 2003 Tribal Art Auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Tribal Art Auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Tribal Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2001 African & Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2000 African and Oceanic Art Auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 1999 African and Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 1999 African and Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 1998 Sotheby's African and Oceanic Art Auction

See The City Review article on the Spring 1998 Sotheby's African and Oceanic Art Auction

See The City Review article on the Spring, 2000 Pre-Columbian Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 1999 auction of Pre-Columbian Art at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the November 1998 Pre-Columbian Auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 1997 American Indian Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 1998 American Indian art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 1999 American Indian Art auction at Sotheby's

 

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