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African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art

Sotheby's

African & Oceanic Art

Lots 1-84

10:15AM, Friday, May 14, 2004

Sale 7996
Igbo female figure

Lot 53, Igbo female figure, 54 ½ inches high

Carter B. Horsley

The 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 eagle seeks 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.

Songe male power figure, Kalebwe

Lot 72, male community power figure, Songe, Kalebwe, 31 ½ inches high

The 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 Himmelheber, 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.

A 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.

Another 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 sell.

Cameroon/Northern Gabon Fang female reliquary guardian figure

Lot 65, Cameroon/Northern Gabon Fang female reliquary guardian figure, 22 inches high

Lot 65 is a "rare" Cameroon/Northern Gabon Fang female reliquary figure with a white-kaolin 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.

Yoruba bowl by Olowe of Ise

Lot 60, Yoruba bowl by Olowe of Ise, 19 inches high

Lot 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 for 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.

Southeast African male and female pair

Lot 82, Southeast African male and female pair, 18 and 18 ¾ inches high

According 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.

Banama female figure

Lot 30, Banama female figure, 25 inches high

A 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.

Senufo male rhythm pounder

Lot 50, Senufo male rhythm pounder, 50 ½ inches high

A 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 pounders," the catalogue entry stated, "were used during funerary rites of the important Senufo poro secret society. A few male 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."

Banama Komo Society headdress

Lot 29, headdress, Bamana, Komo Society, 25 inches

A challenging 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.

Tschokwe male figure

Lot 79, Tschokwe male figure, 19 3/4 inches high

A 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.

There are 25 lots in the Oceanic section of the morning session.

East Sepik Province Yam Cult female figure

Lot 13, Yam Cult Female Figure, East Sepik Province, Warasei People, New Guinea, 35 1/2 inches high

Lot 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 that "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."

Lot 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 the Museum 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."

See The City Review article on the Fall 2003 Tribal Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2003 Tribal Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Tribal Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Tribal Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2001 African & Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2000 African and Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 1999 African and Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 1999 African and Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 1998 Sotheby's African and Oceanic Art auction

See The City Review article on the Spring 1998 Sotheby's African and Oceanic Art auction

See The City Review article on the Spring, 2000 Pre-Columbian Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 1999 auction of Pre-Columbian Art at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the November 1998 Pre-Columbian auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 1997 American Indian Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 1998 American Indian art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 1999 American Indian Art auction at Sotheby's

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