By Carter B. Horsley
This auction of African and Oceanic Art at
Sotheby's November 15, 2005 is highlighted by a marvelous group
of weathered wood statues from Magagascar, Sakalava Vezo that
are hauntingly beautiful.
Lot 154 is the most spectacular work in this
group, all of which were acquired from Arne Ekstrom, Cordier and
Ekstrom Gallery in New York in the mid-1980s. It is 20 inches
high and has fragmentraay legs beneath a skirt tapering upward
to the slightly arched torse. The lot has a very conservative
estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It was passed at $22,500.
The catalogue entry indicates that this figure
appears "to be from a small corpus of works by the same hand
as two other well-known figures formerly in the De Grunne Collection
and it quotes an expert as stating tht it seems "to come
from one of the nine or so funerary sites in the region of Morondova
on Madagascar's wetern coast," adding that the Vezo are a
fishing population who should be distinguished from the surrounding
Sakalava with whom they are often confounded and to whom Vezo
funerary art is sometimes erroneously attributed."
The sale was not very successful with more
than a third of the lots not selling.
Lot 153 is also said to be by the same hand
as Lot 154 in the catalogue. The women's face is open-mouthed
and she has an elaborate coiffure. It also has a modest estimate
of $25,000 to $35,000. It failed to sell and was passed at
The tallest figure in this group is Lot 151,
a maternity figure that is 35 inches high. The catalogue notes
that it is Sakalava, possibly Vezo. The figure's left arm supports
a baby behind her back. This lot has a very modest estimate of
$8,000 to $10,000. It was passed at $6,000.
A fourth Madagascar, Sakalava figure is lot
152, which is 32 inches high and is distinguished by an elaborate
coiffure and the fact that she holds a spear in her right hand.
It was published in a Cordier and Ekstrom catalogue of an exhibition
at the gallery January 4 to February 10, 1973. It has a very modest
estimate of $7,000 to $10,000. It sold for $6,600 including
the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
Lot 100 is a fine Bamana female wood marionette
that is 29 1/2 inches high. The lot was acquired from Henri Kamer,
New York in 1961 and exhibited at the Museum of Primitve Art exhibition
in 1961 entitled "To Private Collections: Gertrud A. Mellon
and René d'Harancourt. It has a modest estimate of $8,000
to $12,000. It sold for $16,800.
Lot 125 is a fine Songe power
figure that is 11 1/4 inches highand is notable for its excellent
patina and nicely carved feet. It has an estimate of $15,000 to
$25,000. It sold for $39,000. It is one of numerous lots
in the auction from the Raymond E. Britt Family Collection.
Another work from the same
collection is Lot 140, a rare Lwalwa pair of male and female figures
of which the tallest is 15 3/4 inches tall. The lot has an estimate
of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $60,000.
Lot 31 is a rare Sierra Leone,
probably Mende figure that is property of a Belgian private collection.
"The offered figure, wearing a military tunic and royal crown,"
the catalogue entry for this lot observed, "has obvious elements
of European influence. In addition to the European elements, the
snake and the crown are distinct symbols seen in other Mende works
of Art. When the English came to Sierra Leone in 1885 to declare
it a Protectorate, and subsequently bring its colonial rule to
an end, Queen Victoria's Paramount Chiefs were given replicas
of her crown to acknowledge Britian's presence. These crowns became
symbols of independence and were considered, for a long time,
prestige objects of the highest rank." This lot has an estimate
of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $27,000.
The auction has three Mumuye
figures that were formerly in the Harry A. Franklin Family Collection
in Beverly Hills, Lots 65, 66, 67. Lot 65 has an estimate of $15,000
to $25,000 and Lots 66 and 67 each have estimates of $5,000 to
$7,000. A fourth and smaller Mumuye figure, Lot 69, has an estimate
of $3,000 to $5,000. Lot 65 sold for $14,400. Lot 66 was passed
at $4,250. Lot 67 sold for $6,600. Lot 69 sold for $11,400.
Lot 87 is an impressive Wurkun
figure that is 48 inches high and has a modest estimate of $6,000
to $9,000. It passed at $4,750.
Lot 116 is a rare and important
female power figure from Kongo, Sundi that is 37 inches high and
was formerly in the collections of Patrick Henry Bruce, the painter,
and Governor Nelsonrockefeller. It has an estimate of $250,000
to $400,000. It was passed at $220,000.
The cover illustration of the
catalogue is Lot 104, a superb Guro mask that is 17 inches high
and belongs to the corpus of works by the "Master of Baufle,"
named for the town of his atelier in the southeastern region of
the Ivory Coast. The mask has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.
It sold for $84,000.
Lotr 136 is a fine Luba stool
that is 17 3/4 inches high and has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.
It sold for $25,200.
Lot 18 is a rare and important Fiji Islands
neckrest that is 12 1/4 inches long and has an estimate of $70,000
to $100,000. It sold for $102,000.