Carter B. Horsley
William W. Brill, who died in
2003, was the
president of the Mutual Real Estate Investment Trust in New York
and lived in a townhouse in Greenwich Village when he started
collecting African Art in 1960 and most of his spectacular collection
of African Art was collected between 1965 and 1969.
In a reminiscence printed in
Morton Lipkin, a prominent dealer, recalled that on his visits
with Mr. Bill, "we spent a great deal of time together just
looking though his books. I don't know anyone who used the books
more than he did. It was his passion. Another element of Bill's
collection that is noteworthy is that Bill was constantly moving
the pieces to different places. He even did this while we were
just sitting around in the evening. We are talking about four
floors of African art! I would go into the various rooms to find
that pieces were changing places almost daily. I believe it gave
him a different perspective upon seeing the pieces at various
In addition to many
works, the Brill collection is notable for its great collections
of combs and staffs.
The Sotheby's auction
of the Brill collection
November 17, 2006 was extremely successful with all 170 offered
lots selling for a total of $4,186,720, almost double the pre-sale
One of the best works in the
auction is Lot
67, a fine and rare Eastern Mambila male and female janiform figure
that is 23 1/2 inches high. The lot has a modest estimate of $60,000
to $90,000. The lot sold to a European dealer for $262,400
including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this
article. The catalogue notes that this figure "exhibits
qualities that are classically Mambila - the telescopic eyes which
are mirrored by similar circular ears emanating from the temples
and further enhanced by a scooped, heart-shaped facial plane.
The female figure is adorned at the crest with inserted pegs Moreover,
the bowed muscular legs are distinguished by their broad feet
extending beyond the angle and the angularity of the legs which
are counter-balanced by the geometric hoips and abdomen. Also,
like the best Mambila figures, the patina is charcoal gray with
an eggshell layer of encrustation and soot. At the same time,
however, this figures has some qualities of the neighboring Kaka
- the broad chest, storng shoulders and tensely bent, faceted
arms held out to the side. The Mambila live on the northern border
of the Cameroon Grassfields and into western Nigeria. The Kaka
live in Western Cameroon nearby. While male and female couples
are well known within Mambila art, there appears to be only one
other recorded example of a janiform male and female figure, collected
in 1933....However, the Brill janus is unique in that it does
not show two merge full figures but instead the male as full with
the female as half figure emerging from the back. Within Kaka
art, there are no couples known.
is a striking Kanyok
male and female pair of sculptures, 14 1/4 inches high.
catalogue offers the following
Brill Kanyok couple
is the only male and female pair, carved individually, that are
publicly known to survive as a pair. One other male and female
free-standing pair is recorded as early as 1927 in the collection
of Karl van Lier of the Netherlands....The Kanyok fell under the
Luba Kingdom's influence, living just south and west of the Luba,
to the east of the Kete and northeast of the Tshokwe....Within
the Kanyok court, the chief employed artists, called Manindak.
The Manindak was a dignitary and shared a position
for technical skill along with blacksmiths and musicians."
has a modest estimate
of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold to an American private
for $264,400, a record for a Kanyok work of art at auction.
is a super Baule "moon"
mask that is 7 3/4 inches high. It has an estimate of $60,000
to $90,000. It sold for $120,000.
Lot 76 is a "magnificent" Kuyu
head that is 10 1/2 inches high.
The catalogue provides the
"The Kuyu people, neighbors of
live on the east and west sides of the Kuyu River, a tributary
of the Likouala River, which flows into the Congo in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo....Kuyu works of art of similar refinement
are rare. Only a few other sculptures of comparable quality and
strong physiognomy are known....The Brill head, however, is unsurpassed
in its merger of artistic delicacy and savage expressiveness.
The composition of drooping eyes in trance-like expression in
contrast to a gaping mouth with sharp, ferocious teeth can be
understood as an allusion to the moment of transcendence of spirital
power during the important ceremonies. The artist's mastery in
depicting this moment beyond time makes the Brill head arguably
one ofthe most important Kuyu sculptures known."
It has an estimate of $100,000
It sold to an American private collector for $464,000, a
for a work of Kuyu art and the highest price realized at the auction.
is a very impressive
Songe male power figure tha is 16 1/2 inches high.
catalogue provides the
Brill Songe power
figure, nkisi, is an exceptional example of its
an overall sharpness and faceting of the body and dybamic asymmetry
with the head turned sharply to the side. While the sinister smile
together with the organic quality of the headdress and the heavily
developed patina give the figure a sense of wildness and movement,
the broad hands resting on the abdomen and the flat feet resting
squarely on the raised base may be interpreted as symbolizing
a stabilizing force keeping the power directed and in control."
has an estimate of
$40,000 to $60,000. It sold to an American private collector
Lot 112 is a striking and fine
implement that is 9 1/2 inches high. The catalogue notes that
the original function "remains mysterious." The lot
has a modest estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. It sold for
the more striking works
in the auction is Lot 27, a superb Baga shrine that is 25 1/4
inches long. Mounted on a cylindrical stool an elongated avian
head with long protruding beak is supported by a slender neck
and the head has an elaborate openwork headdress with a central
crest. The catalogue notes that the altar is distinguished "by
its overall thinness and refinement of carving with a deeply layered
patina. The work has a modest estimate of $25,000 to $35,000.
It sold for $144,000.
"Among the Islamic Mande
masks were used during performances of the Do society masquesrades.
The Do society was an Islamicized institution which, like the
Poro Society of the neighboring Senufo, served tovpreserve order,
perform at public festivals, take part in major funerals, and
protect the village from evil spiritis.
"The Brill Ligbe mask from the
region is rare, consisting of three faces it evinces a
The lot has an estimate of
$12,000 to $18,000.
It sold for $7,800.
Lot 7 is a rare and superb
Bamana Ntomo power
figure that is 12 1/4 inches high. "The figure's face,"
the catalogue notes, "is hidden behind a wooden face mask
of stylized human features and surmounted by a front crest of
horns.....The thick and encrusted patina stems from offerings
during numerous libation ceremonies....The finely carved mask
with incised jaw lines is typical for a particular region in the
Bamana area....The Bamana believe the mouth to be a part of the
anatomy intimately linked to the establishment of social interaction.
By the same token, it can also be an origin of serious social
disruption, especially through the spoken word. Thus the ntomo
dancer is aphonic, uttering no sound while performing. In
the Brill example, the mouth of the mask appears indeed closely
shut, indicated by two small horizontal slits....Especially
the incisions on the back of the figure, a common way of presenting
body scarification and found in many examples of Bamana sculpture.
The interest lies here in the fact that actual ntomo
is always of a uniform color and without decoration, so the patterns
n the back are not part of the costume but the artist's virtuosic
display of scarifications on the outside. In a kind of X-ray effect,
this constitutes not only a visualization of the invisible but
also a merger of skin and costume into a powerful metaphor for
the sacredness of human nature." The lot has an estimate
of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $114,000.
is a "superb"
Yombe power figure that is 10 1/4 inches high with a defiant stance
with truncated arms framing the protruding rectangular magical
charge with a mirror affixed with black resin. The face has glass
eyes with heavy lids and the figure wears a resinous cap bundle.
The lot has an estimate of $70,000 to $100,000. It sold for
Lot 63 is a fine Ejagham
headcrest that is
notable for its articulated limbs and its face of exaggerated
simian features with a cap of human hair. The work has a great
deal of whimsy in its expressiveness and animated pose. It has
a modest estimate of $3,000 to $5,000. It sold for $6,600.
Lot 74 is a very beautiful and
Bouiti Society, ceremonial implement that is 15 1/2 inches high.
It has a modest estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. It sold for
Another excellent Fang workis
Lot 75, an 8-inch
high female figure. It has a modest estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.
It sold for $33,000.
is an impressive Mbole
figure that is 21 1/2 inches high. The catalogue notes that "The
Mbole ofika figures share some characteristics
Lega and the Bembe - the heart-shaped face and unususual postion
of the arms. However, this unique but well-known type of carving
belongs to high-ranking members of the Lilwa association....The
Lilwa was a graded association with a similar social-judicial
function to the Bwami of the Lega, but the initiation process
is less complex and there is less artistic production associated
with each rite. The famed, conventionalized, polychrome
persons who were hanged for transgressing against the laws of
the Lilwa and the public order; they may eventually portray sacrificial
victims. The figureines also have some reference to a pre-burial
custom applied to high-ranking Lilwa members involving suspension
of the body."
lothas an estimate of $12,000
to $18,000. It sold for $60,000.
is a rare double-figure
neckrest of the Twa, a pygmy group that the catalogue sates "at
one point estimated at about 100,000 in population, living among
the Kuba and Mongo peoples." The catalogue notes that "The
name 'Twa' is Bantu for 'little people.' The Twa were nomadic
hunters and the only Pygmy group known to produce wood carvings.
The composition of the Brill neckrest is unusual with clear Kuba
influence, particularly in the incised motifs at the top. The
dynamic treatment of the figures displays an individualistic
101is a quite striking
and haunting Benalulua crouching figure that is notable for its
expressive face with a grimacing mouth baring teeth and the emaciated
figure. The lot has a conservative estimate of $6,000 to $9,000.
It sold for $36,000.
One of the most memorable works
in the auction
is Lot 131, a Lovalle standing figure overlaid by woven fiber.
Such figures appear at the end of a male initiation rite to review
and refine the dancing skills of the initiates. The lot has a
conservative estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. It sold for
Lot 139 is a "superb" Baule
that is 8 3/4 inches high and is distinguished by its upswept
shoulders and elaborate headdress on a disk-shaped element surmounted
by a pierced diamond shape. The lot, which was once in the collection
of Tristan Tzara, has a conservative estimate of $9,000 to $12,000.
It sold for $21,600.
Lot 138 is an Asante figurative
12 1/2 inches high and has an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000.
It sold for $84,000.
Lot 146 is an Asante comb that
is 11 1/4 inches
high and has a modest estimate of $7,000 to $10,000. It sold