By Carter B. Horsley
Once again Sotheby's has put
Art auction into the same catalogue as its African and Oceanic
Art auction. See the separate article on the Pre-Columbian Art
auction that occurs at 2PM November 11, 2004.
This morning auction November
11, 2004 at Sotheby's
of African and Oceanic Art is highlighted by a spectacular
from New Guinea, a magnificent Yoruba Ram's Head Altarpiece, an
impressive Benin bracelet, and a Kongo power figure.
Lot 22 is a magnificent
flute-stopper in the
form of a male figure with a fabulous feathered headdress from
the Lower Sepik River, Yuat River, Biwat region of New Guinea.
According to the catalogue
entry for this lot,
the Biwat carved "elaborate sacred flutes, haiyang, sometimes
up to eight to ten feet in length." "Aggressively stanced
figures such as this," it continued, "were inserted
at the top of the flute when not it use. It was these flutes which
the Biwat themselves considered their most important and sacred
objects. Their social, ceremonial and religious significance was
tremendous. Although several cults existed, these figures are
often considered to be the children of the mother crocodile spirit,
a powerful being that performed creative deeds in primeval times
and let initiates be reborn by symbolically swallowing and throwing
out the candidates."
The 18 ½-inch-high figure has
legs and a salient head with a beard inset with plaited fiber
beside earrings inset with conus and haliotis shell. He has an
unturned mouth baring teeth and crescent-shaped eyes inlaid with
haliotis and his head is surmounted, according to the catalogue,
"by a diadem of cassowary feathers."
The lot, which is described in
as "superb," has an estimate of $280,000 to $350,000.
It sold for $276,800 including the buyer's premium as do all
the results mentioned in this article.
One of the best Oceanic works
is Lot 4, a "rare"
male altar figure from the Leti Islands, Southeast Moluccas. The
18-inch-high figure is seated on a square base with exaggerated
legs with his folded arms resting on his knees. The highly stylized
figure has a fragmentary flange at the crown above the quite beautiful
Modiglianesque face. According to the catalogue, this figure would
"have formed the crest of an elaborate altar constructed
for periodic fertility rites in Leti villages." Today, it
continued, "the old figures have become extremely rare."
The lot has a modest estimate of $7,000 to $10,000. It sold
Another fine and highly
stylized lot is Lot
5, a "rare" Batak pair of male and female figures. The
male figure is 18 ¼ inches high and the female figure is
15 ½ inches high. The pair's provenance is Mathias Komor
of New York. With slender bent arms with claw-like hands, the
couple has considerable charm and an Oriental sensibility. The
male has a topknot and the female has a striated coiffure. The
lot has a modest estimate of $5,000 to $7,000. It sold for
Lot 13 is a "fine" ancestor
from New Guinea, Papuan Gulf, Kerewa. The 39 ¾-inch high,
flat figure has an openwork body with a torso framed by two extensions.
These agiba were hung from the rafters and a platform was placed
beneath them to support suspended skulls. The catalogue observed
that "although it should not be ruled out that heads of relatives
were hung on the agiba, most skulls were taken during headhunting
expeditions." "Each time a skull was added," it
continued, "the agiba was painted to reactivate its power
and reinforce its sacred nature." The very handsome lot has
a conservative estimate of $12,000 to $18,000. It sold for
is a dance headdress
from New Ireland that is 17 3/4 inches long. "This impressive
mask," the catalogue maintained, "is a particularly
fine example with thoughtful execution of proportions, surface
and detail. The malangan tatanua masks are danced
to honor the dead." The lot has an estimate of $8,000 to
$12,000. It sold for
Lot 14 is a large and dramatic
East Coast, Houailou Region mask that was once in the collection
of Mistinguett, the famous French chanteuse. The "fine and
rare" mask is of the apouema type, the name of a god who
lives near the water and, according to the catalogue, "this
spirit is mercurial and can change from a quiet water entity into
an evil spirit which rises out of the water when irritated by
intruders. The mask, which is 21 ½ inches high, has telescoping
eyes and a mouth encircled by resin and remnants of abrus seeds.
The lot has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It failed to
Lot 100 is described in the
catalogue as an
"Important Bangwa Commemorative Figure of a King." The
41 3/8-inch high figure, who is seated on a stool, has an "estimate
on request." It sold for $1,072,000.
Sotheby's holds the record for
a Bangwa commemorative
figure of a queen, which was formerly in the Helena Rubenstein
and Harry Franklin Collections, $3.4 million. "In the same
celebrate tradition of representing royalty as the queen figure
now in the Musée Dapper, Paris, the king," a Sotheby's
press release stated, "is adorned with royal accoutrements
including a drinking horn and pipe in his hands, a series of ivory
bracelets, a beaded color and a ceremonial headdress."
The catalogue entry for this
lot noted that
Sotheby's had auctioned November 18, 2000, a "related, large-scale,
highly expressionistic, Cameroon figure carved in the nineteenth
century, also for a royal treasury, but from the Eastern Bangwa
The City Review's coverage of
provided the following commentary:
"Lot 109 is perhaps the most
work in the auction as it is a 55-inch-high Eastern Bangwa
figure whose erosion due to the elements has removed its patination
but left a marvelously imposing figure with an animated and
facial expression and a greatly extended stomach that is meant
probably to represent pregnancy, but from the site also conjures
a great 'beer belly.' The catalogue quotes one expert as noted
that this piece 'does not come from the well known Bangwa tribe,
but rather from the Kingdom of Bangwa…founded three centuries
ago by the great hunter called Njongvum.'
'Before the great fire of 1958
in the Bangwa
Kingdom, one could still see the commemorative statues of the
old royalty at the palace. Unfortunately, the fire destroyed the
whole treasure except the present great hermaphrodite figure which
had been carved in the 19th Century by Fotcheka. In the Bangwa
Kingdom hermaphrodite figures have the same function as for the
Bangwa peoples of the Fontem Basin. They were exhibited in a public
place on specific occasions, and were believed to cause infertility
to the men or women who had transgressed the orders of the King/God."
The lot has a conservative estimate of $70,000 to $100,000. It
sold for $1,050,750, which brought forth a round of applause in
the medium-size auction room."
Lot 59 is a "fine," large and
Senufo "firespitter" mask. The 46-inch-long mask has
a bovine face with horns at the snout with a bird and bowl at
the crest of the forehead and long curved horns above the ears.
It has a conservative estimate of $12,000 to $18,000. It sold
Senufo object is Lot
50, an equestion figure that is 16 inches high. It has a delightfully
disproportionate sense of scale and is very stylized. "The
bold, exaggerated forms executed with an economy of expression,"
the catalogue noted, "places this figures origin in the Central
region of Senufo artistic production, centered around the Korhogo
district." It has an estimate of $18,000 to $22,000. It
sold for $16,800.
Lot 13 is a "rare and
Benin ivory bracelet that is dated circa 16th Century. The 5 1/8-inch
long bracelet is, according to the catalogue, "of extremely
thin hollowed cylindrical form with indigenous repairs, and highly
decorated on the exterior with a repertoire of complex Benin royal
motifs including two images of a central king or Oba figure (identified
by his mudfish legs) flanked by two high ranking chiefs or warrior
figures horizontally, and alternating with two slightly similar
groupings of a central Oba figure supported by attendants, all
dressed in coral beads, and interspersed with a highly complex
series of symbolic Benin royal images including tortoises, fish,
leopards, kola nuts, elephant and crocodile heads, snakes biting
snails, birds and leaves." The bracelet was once in the collections
of Jacob Epstein of London and Carlo Monzino. There are six known
bracelets of the same style and age. The lot has a conservative
estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $220,800.
The most striking work in the
auction is Lot
79, a "fine and rare" Yoruba, Owo region, ram's head
altarpiece that is 14 inches high. The catalogue notes that "only
about twenty examples [are] known." The finely sculpted work
has a superb patina was exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim
Museum in 1996 and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1998.
It has a modest estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for
is an impressive Fon
power figure from the Abomey region. It is 19 inches high and
was once in the collection of Ben Heller. It has an estimate of
$6,000 to $9,000. It sold for $7,200.
power figure is Lot
110. This one comes from the Kongo and is 11 1/2 inches high.
Once in the collection of J. J. Klejman, it has an estimate of
$30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $45,000. "This
the catalogue observed, "exhibits a sensitive combination
of expressionism and pathos. Kongo power figures, nkisi, were
used in cooperation with a spiritual healer, nganga, to invoke
positive and negative forces on behalf of a client seeking his
services....This figure is unusual in that the left arm appears
to have been removed or amputated, with a resinous bundle and
a series of small blades inserted at the tip."
fine object formerly
in the collection of J. J. Klejman is Lot 117, a male ancestor
figure, Pre-Bembe, Sikasingo. The 17 3/4 -inch high figure has
an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $72,000.
Lot 106 consists of four combs
Africa. The tallest is 8 1/4 inches high. Two come from Benelulua,
one Lega and the fourth Yaka. The attractive lot has a modest
estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. It sold for $13,200.
Lot 97 is a "fine" Mambila
mask that has "expressive volumetric features" and is
16 inches long. It has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. It
failed to sell.
Lot 126 is a lovely and "rare"
female figure with an "exceptionally fine and worn deep brown
surface that is covered with "elaborate incised, cross-hatched
and geometric motifs." The sculpture, which is 17 inches
high, has a conservative estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It
sold for $39,000.
include a "superb"
Sango reliquary guardian figure, Lot 102, which had an estimate
of $15,000 to $20,000 and sold for $48,000, and a "fine and
rare" Central Vanuatu, Tongoa Island, bird figure, Lot 26,
that is 88 inches wide and was a very abstract and beautiful,
almost propeller-shaped, gable decoration at the apex of the entrance
to a chiefly men's house and had an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000
and sold for $72,000.