By Carter B.
This auction of Pre-Columbia
Art at Sotheby’s,
November 22, 1999, has a wide assortment of objects from many
cultures including some interesting stone figures, "anecdotal"
sculpture from West Mexico and some nice beakers.
The cover illustration of the
Lot 122, shown above, a small but delightful Jalisco "Platform
Scene" from West Mexico that dates to the Protoclassic period,
ca. 100 B.C. to A. D.100. Only 9 ¾ inches long, this work
depicts 8 attendants bearing a large litter on which a male figure
is attended by two female figures. The clay is wildly striped
in creamy tan and orange and all the figures have very prominent
noses. The ensemble evokes not so much respect for the male figure
borne on the litter but sympathy for the litter bearers. While
the piece, which was formerly in the Joseph Haddad Collection,
is not finely detailed or sculpted, it is marvelous and has a
high estimate of $35,000. It sold for $28,750 including the
buyer's premium as do all sales prices in this article.
The auction did
reasonably well, but most
prices were around the low end of the pre-sale estimates.
Lot 126 is an equally
impressive work from
the same period. It is a large Nayarit House, 12 ½-inches-high
and depicts 17 villagers in and around a two-story house of quite
bold design with steep, overhanging roofs. The clay work has great
charm as one villager sits on the second floor, another climbs
the stairs and several holding their sides as if from overindulgence,
the catalogue notes. The lot has a conservative high estimate
of $40,000 and has a reddish brown color with some details in
cream and black. It sold for $34,500.
A very striking sculpture is
Lot 24, a large
Valdivia double-sided stone figure from about 2300 to 2200 B.C.
This 20 7/8-inch-high, creamy gray striated stone is carved on
each side with the image of anthropomorphic avian that the catalogue
notes is probably an owl. This very abstract sculpture is the
equal of many 20th Century sculptures and is on a par with some
Cycladic pieces even though it is not as dimensional. It has a
conservative high estimate of $18,000. It sold for $14,950.
Another similar but less interesting sculpture of the same type,
Lot 26, is a big taller but is only carved on one side and has
a high estimate of $12,000. It sold for $17,250.
Another very interesting work
from the same
period is Lot 22, a Valdivia creamy gray stone plaque, 9 ½
by 20 5/8 inches. The surface has incised lines that enclose small
drilled circles and a central panel of three arrows with blunted
points flanked by partial arrows. The plaque is very abstract
and mysterious and in good condition. It has a high estimate of
$15,000. It sold for $24,150.
Lot 178 is an impressive Aztec
of Quetzalcoatl, the mythical feathered serpent, 15 inches in
diameter, from the Postclassic Period, circa A.D. 1300-1521. The
sculpture in dark gray basalt was acquired from the Mathias Komor
Gallery in 1971 and has a high estimate of $25,000 as such works
are amongst the quintessential embodiments of Pre-Columbian art
although this work is somewhat smaller than other famous examples.
It sold for $21,850.
Another good stone sculpture,
Lot 168, shown
below, is a 15 ¾-inch-long Veracruz yoke in smooth green-gray
speckled stone from the Late Classic Period, circa A.D. 550-950.
The catalogue remarks that this sculpture is "fluidly carved
in bold relief with a stylized frog. It has a high estimate of
$30,000. It failed to sell.
Mezcala stone figurines appear
on the market
frequently, but few with the charm of Lot 111, a zoomorphic figure
from the Late Preclassic Period, circa 300-100 BC. The dark speckled
metadiorite sculpture, which is 3 5/8-inches-high, shows a monkey
with a long tail that is raised the full height of the figure.
The lot has a conservative high estimate of $7,000. It failed
Lot 91 is an excellent Mayan
stone head hacha,
Early Classic Period, circa A. D. 250-450, with a human face with
exaggerated features of "transformational nature." The
gray stone sculpture is 7 ½-inches-long and has a high
estimate of $18,000. It sold for $16,100.
Lots 95 and 96 are good Mayan
from the Late Classic Period, circa A. D. 550-950. The former
is in the form of a bat and 10 ¼ inches high in blackish
brown stone from the Pacific Slope Region and has a high estimate
of $12,000. It sold for $9,200. The latter is in
of a jaguar in light gray volcanic stone and is 7 1/8 inches long
and has a high estimate of $3,500. It passed.
Lot 93 is a very impressive
vase, 6 ¾ inches in diameter, from the Ulúta Valley,
Early Postclassic Period, circa A. D. 900-1200. The creamy, white
translucent sculpture has a base of openwork-stepped design beneath
three rows of fluidly turned scroll motifs and two handles in
the form of mythical snarling felines. It has a high estimate
of $20,000. It sold for $23,000.
There are some excellent Costa
Rican jade figural
pieces. Lot 56, for example, is a 6 ¾-inch-high pendant
depicting a composite human/avian figure. It is dated circa A.
D. 300-700 and has a high estimate of $8,000. It sold for
Quimbaya seated figures are
among the most
jovial of all Pre-Columbian art. Lot 31 is a typical example,
14 ¼ inches tall, and Lot 32, is a slightly smaller example
but retains a nose-ring and has incised band decorations on the
arts and legs. The former has a high estimate of $7,000 while
the latter has a high estimate of only $5,000 despite the fact
that it has a nose-ring and more decorative detailing. Lot
31 sold for $5,175. Lot 32 sold for $7,475. The charm of
works is the tubularity of the limbs protruding from a flat plane
and the flat heads with perforations along the top. They are very
elegant, a bit comical and not at all intimidating. Sometimes
they have a gold earring.
The most famous cheerful
at the Veracruz Smiling Figures and Lot 164 is a fine example
from Nopiloa, Late Classic Period, circa A. D.550-950. The 11
¾-inch-high figure, which was at one time acquired from
the Edward Merrin Gallery, holds a rattle in the left hand, has
anklets, bead necklace, earnings, patterned chestband and turban
with segmented scroll and plume. It has a conservative high estimate
of $20,000. It sold for $17,250.
Other impressive works from the
and Veracruz are Lots 165, 166 and 167. The first is a 23 ½-inch-high
figure of a standing priest that is highly detailed and wearing
a very interesting costume. It has a conservative high estimate
of $15,000 as does Lot 166, a taller but less interesting work.
Lot 167 is a 57-inch high female figure holding an effigy incense
burner in her left hand and has her right hand cupped for an offering.
The figure has a double-snake sash and an impressive headdress
with addorsed feline heads and scrolls flanking the back. Her
mouth is open in a chant, according to the catalogue. It has a
high estimate of $50,000. Lot 165 failed to sell. Lot 166
for $10,350 and Lot 167 sold for $31,625.
More extraordinary is Lot 33, a
male figure, 11 ½ inches tall, in the Tocuyo style from
the Trujillo Region, circa A. D. 1000-1500, has bold linear designs
in brown across the entire surface with diagonal patterning with
areas reddish orange highlights on the face. The seated figure
has scrawny shoulders, distorted legs and head and very long curved
arms and is holding an offering bowl. It has a high estimate of
only $15,000. It sold for $11,500.
A more conventional work is Lot
25, a large
Jama Coaque figural double vessel, Manabi, circa 500 B.C.- A.
D. 500. Half of this is a simple vessel, but the other half is
a figure of a shaman in elaborate ceremonial garb holding poporos
with double tassels. The very fine work has remains of ochre and
blue-green pigments and has a conservative high estimate of $30,000.
It sold for $31,625.
There are three very nice Chimu
in excellent condition. Lot 13 is a 9 ½-inch-high silver
embossed beaker, formerly in the Heeramaneck Collection, with
excellent decoration that dates to circa A. d. 1100-1400 and has
a conservative high estimate of $25,000. Lots 14 and 15 are Middle
Chimu gold beakers from Sícan, circa A.D. 950-1250. The
former is 5 ¼ inches high and has a high estimate of $15,000
and the latter is 9 5/8 inches high and has a high estimate of
$35,000. Lot 13 sold for $17,250.
Among the other gold pieces in
is Lot 12, an "important" pair of Chimu gold earspools,
4 5/8 inches in diameter, circa A. D. 1100-1400, that show a "lord"
in a "resolute posture" and have a conservative high
estimate of $60,000. This lot failed to sell.
Lot 173 is a very
striking but simple Aztec
stone seated figure, Postclassic, circa A. D. 1300-1521, 20 1/2
inches high, that has a conservative high estimate of $8,000.
It failed to sell.
Even more grand is Lot
167, a "monumental"
Veracruz female figure, Remojadas, Late Classic, circa A.D. 550-950,
that is 57 inches tall. The bare-breasted woman has a very elaborate
headdress and is wearing long robe with a double-snake sash and
she carries an effigy incense burner in one hand and the other
is turned upwards in an offring. The imposing lot has a conservative
high estimate of $50,000. It sold for only $31,625.