bad news is
that the African, Oceanic Art auction offering at Sotheby's this
season has fewer lots, but the good news is that Pre-Columbia
Art is once again being offered at auction there after missing
a couple of seasons.
Eighty-four lots of African & Oceanic Art are being offered
in the morning May 14, 2004 and there are 106 lots in the Pre-Columbia
Art in the afternoon session of the same sale. Both parts are
included in the same catalogue.
The cover illustration of the catalogue is Lot 53, an "important"
Igbo female figure that is 54 ½ inches high. Finely detailed
with a smiling mouth, pointed nose and incised with organic and
geometric motifs, the figure has deep layers of red, yellow ochre,
black, white and blue pigment. It was on loan to the National
Museum of African Art of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington
from 1989 to 1993.
"This female figure," the catalogue entry noted, "represents
one of the finest examples of Igbo sculpture, and certainly the
hand of a master carver. The strength of the facial features and
development of the surface compares most closely to another female
figure from the Schindler Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art.
However, this figure compares even more favorably in the lightness
and attenuation of form couple with the subtle suggestion of movement.
This figure is called ugonachomma, meaning 'the
out beauty.' This saying metaphorically compares a young woman
to an eagle as both are held to high moral and aesthetic ideals
in Igbo thought."
This impressive and colorful figure has a modest estimate of $40,000
to $60,000. It sold for $90,000 including the buyer's premium
as do all results mentioned in this article.
African Art section
is highlighted by Lot 72, an important Songe, Kalebwe, male community
power figure. The 31 ½-inch-high wood figure wears a leather
cap and has an ambitious estimate of $170,000 to $270,000. It
sold for $489,600. It was collected in 1939 by Hans
an art historian and anthropologist in the then Belgian Congo.
Most of his Congo collection survived World War II in storage
at the Ethnographic Museum of Basel, which had subsidized his
field work in Africa since 1933. After the war, Himmelheber gave
much of his collection to Basel but transferred the works reserved
for his personal collection including this Kalebwe figure from
Basel to Heidelberg where he settled in 1947, according to the
catalogue entry. "The works in this parental home in Karlsruhe
were destroyed during the war. The photo-negatives survived because
they were safeguarded in his family's country house. Therefore,
the Congo works were understandably and incredibly precious to
him and he rarely sold works. Several works from his personal
collection were published in his well-known book Negerkunst
und Negerkünstler (1960). Most of the sculptures published
in this book are now on long-term to the Reitberg Museum in Zurich
where several are on permanent display. This monumental power
figure, however, remained at Himmelheber's home in Heidelberg
and was never shown or exhibited elsewhere. The figure stood in
his library and office, and he considered it one of the greatest
chef-d'oeuvres of his collection. Reproduced in Negerkunst
und Negerkünster he referred to it as the 'Great idol
of the Bekalebwe.'"
The figure has sheets of cooper affixed at the nose and temples
and is wearing a layered skirt and the waist is encircled by a
band of monitor skin and another fiber and the neck is encircled
by woven fiber. The figure has a fine reddish brown patina.
nice companion piece would
be Lot 76, a fine and rare Goma male figure that is 19 5/8 inches
high. It has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 and was once in
the collection of Carel van Lier of Amsterdam. It sold for
$36,000. Mr. van Lier, who died in 1945, was, according to
the catalogue entry, "the first person to present African
art as art in a significant and aesthetic way in the Netherlands
beginning around 1920. His called was called Kunstzaal Van Lier.
He exhibited African art from his gallery in January 1927 at the
Stedijk Museum in Amsterdam.
piece that is slightly
more stylized is Lot 78, a "fine" Hemba male figure
that is 23 ¼ inches high and was once in the collection
of Philippe Ratton of Paris. It has an estimate of $40,000 to
$50,000. This work has a nice patina and fine modeling. It
failed to sell.
A smaller and bit cruder work is Lot 77, a Boyo male figure that
is 16 ½ inches high. It has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.
While not as finely modeled, it has a great deal of charm, especially
in the angled shoulders and receding forehead. It failed to
65 is a "rare"
Cameroon/Northern Gabon Fang female reliquary figure with a
surface. The 22-inch-high figure has muscular legs encircled by
carved rings beneath bulging hips and high conical breasts and
an incised repeating diamond motif on the back. "White"
Fang guardian figures are rarer than the typical slick black ones.
This attractive lot has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It
sold for $108,000.
60 is a "rare and
important" Yoruba bowl of Olowe of Ise, who was born circa
1875 in Efon Alaye, Southern Ekiti and spent much of his life
at Ise, the palace of the Arinjale where, the catalogue entry
maintained, "he carved a series of verando posts and many
other sculptures commissioned by kings for their palaces and by
priests for their shrines, as well as ibeij figures
parents of deceased twins, and dolls for children." "He
resided for four years at the palace of the Ogoga of Ikerre,"
the entry continued, "carving the magnificent doors and veranda
posts which now may be seen in the collections of major museums
in Washington, D.C., Chicago, London and Munich." The entry
notes that "Olowe of Ise is considered the foremost Yoruba
carver of the twentieth century. He was the subject of a retrospective
in 1998 at the National Museum of African Art, which has one of
two similar works. The third similar work is in the Walt Disney-Tishman
African Art Collection. This highly detailed work has an estimate
of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $534,400.
to a catalogue
entry by Sandra Klopper of Stellenbosch, "these figures were
made by a carver who worked in Natal (now KwaZulu/Natal) in the
early 20th Century. There are similar figurative pairs by this
artist in the Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg, and in the Johannesburg
Art Gallery's Brenthurst Collection. It is probably that these
figurines were made for European buyers by Natal-based carvers
who also made staffs for an indigenous African market. The pair
shown here is dressed in clothing similar to that worn by rural
Zulu communities at that time. It is characteristic of this particular
carver's work that his male figurines commonly carry small shields
associated with festivities like weddings."
The "rare" lot has a very modest estimate of $7,000
to $10,000. It sold for $31,200.
very strong work is Lot
30, a "fine" Banama female figure. It is 25 inches high
and has a modest estimate of $12,000 to $18,000. It was once in
the collection of Maria Martins. It sold for $12,000.
very handsome work is
Lot 50, a "fine and rare" Senufo male rhythm pounder
that is 50 ½ inches high. It has an estimate of $90,000
to $120,000. It sold for $102,000. "Rhythm
the catalogue entry stated, "were used during funerary rites
of the important Senufo poro secret society. A few
and female rhythm pounder pairs are known. Typically, though,
female figures are represented and it has been speculated that
these single figures are one of a pair. This exceptional male
rhythm pounder is extraordinary in two respects it represents
a male figure and appears to have been carved outside of the two
well-known artistic centers, and is possibly the only known example
of this type. This male figure conveys a classicism and refined
naturalism which points to the western regional Senufo style."
and fascinating work is Lot 29, a Bamana, Komo Society headdress.
The catalogue describes it as "warakun, of highly
abstract form, supported by a wood base hollowed at the center
and pierced at the rim for attachment, with four projections at
one end and supported an elaborate, architecture superstructure
of multiple interlocking rods, horrns and magic bundles with hair
fringe; heavily encrusted surface." This lot, which may not
be the Frank Gehry of Tribal Art but could qualify as Deconstructivist,
has an estimate of $18,000 to $22,000. It failed to sell.
very stylized and evocative
work is Lot 79, a "fine" Tshokwe male figure that is
19 ¾ inches high. It has a modest estimate of $40,000 to
$60,000 and has been consigned by a European private collection.
It sold for $51,000.
are 25 lots in the
Oceanic section of the morning session.
13, is a stunning Yam
Cult Female Figure from the East Sepik Province, Warasei People,
New Guinea that was collected by Wayne Heathcote in the Warasei
area in 1965 and has been consigned by the Masco Corporation.
It is 35 1/2 inches high and has a modest estimate of $8,000 to
$12,000. It sold for $16,800. The catalogue notes
"this carving would have been one of two in a village representing
the female spirit Hameiyau or Sanggriyau. Both were used during
the third and last yam harvest ceremony, nogwi, which was attended
only by the most powerful men in the community."
11 is a fine male figure
from the Lower Sepik River, Singrin, New Guinea that was once
in the collection of Maria Martins. It is 26 5/8 inches high and
has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $34,800.
The figure has a fine patina and its torso is very nicely detailed
with pronounced hips. The figure, which has a few cracks, has
a conical coiffure and turned-down feet. Maria Martins (1894-1973)
was a Surrrealist sculptor who was born in Brazil and learnt how
to cast from Jacques Lipchitz and she acquired Piet Mondrian's
Broadway Boogie Woogie, which she then donated to
of Modern Art in New Yuork. According to the catalogue entry,
she "began a relationship with [Marcel] Duchamp in 1946"
and it was probably her association with André Breton that
"sparked her appreciation of African, Oceanic and American
Indian works of art."