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The Saul & Marsha Stanoff Collection

Of African & Pre-Columbian Art

Sotheby's

10 AM, May 17, 2007

Sale 8386

Bamum headcrest

Lot 22, Bamum headcrest, Cameroon, 20 1/4 inches high

By Carter B. Horsley

Sotheby's has described the Collection of Saul and Marsha Stanoff was "arguably the most important private collection bridging the fields of African, Oceanic, Pre-Columbian and American Indian Art to appear at auction."

It is certainly a spectacular collection that includes several masterpieces including two African sculptures that were formerly in the collection of Maurice de Vlaminck, one of the major Fauve painters, and a spectacular Chinesco seated figure. Mr. Stanoff was born in New York in 1917 and died in 2005. He and Marsha began collected Pre-Columbian Art in the 1950s and African Art around 1970. Mrs. Stanoff has told Sotheby's that their first exposure to African Art was through Katherine White whose collection is now in the Seattle Art Museum.

Lot 22 is a "superb, rare and highly important" Bamum headcrest that is 20 1/4 inches high. It is one of the two lots in this auction that were once in the collection of Maurice de Vlaminck. With its blown cheeks, bulbous eyes with coffee-bean irises and "a dramatically backswept bilobed bonnet," this is a sensational masterpiece.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"This powerful and elegant sculpture is among the rarest objects in Cameroon art. It can be attributed to a Bamum workshop in the Makutam region, which produced large scale headcrests, so-called tungunga, that show influence of the souther Tikar mih-yang masks....Tungunga headcrests were danced in pairs of two and evoked the images of a deceased king and his wife. They were held ontop of the head and affixed by a fiber construction hidden underneath a raffia frill. Tungungas were danced by a the members of the nsoro, a secret society for warriors. Only those men who had killed an enemy in the field of battle could become members of this society....Tungunga dancers appeared only at funerals of important persons, namely of chiefs, members of the royal family, state ministers, and initates of the nsoro. The bilobed bonnet of the Stanoff tungunga indicates the representation of a king. The importance of the Stanoff tungunga lies not only in its rarity but in its signficance to the evolution of 20th Century art. The sculpture embodies the quintessence of Cubist thought: the artist's idea - here the king as symbol of stately authority, hierarchic order of society ..., and guarantor of continuity - is broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled into abstract form. The result of this process is expressed in five hemispherical forms of varying sizes, a tubular vertical element, a protruding oval ring, and two quarter-spheres, all arranged in an order that allows our mind to interpret it in the desired way: the elegance of the curved neck is repeated in the backswpt bonnet and gives the sculpture a regal presence; the massiveness and depth of the forms together with the dramatic eyebrows render the image strikingly powerful; and the theme of the circle as expressed in the hemispherical eyes, cheeks, and chin, as well as the oval mouth, evoke the idea of unlimited continuity. Picasso applied the same thought process in a series of bronze sculptures, all executed in 19131, based on the bodyof his young mistress, Marie-Therese Walter."

The lot has an estimate of $600,000 to $700,000. It sold for $1,608,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

The sale, which was expected to bring between $4,000,000 and $5,700,000, totaled $11,904,300 with 78 of the 80 offered lots selling, many at multiples of their high estimates.

Grebo mask

Lot 19, Krou (Grebo) Mask, Ivory Coast, 21 inches high

The second de Vlaminck work is Lot 19, a "magnificent Krou (Grebo) mask" from the Ivory Coast. Carved from a single piece of wood with blue, black and white pigments and a rope spanning the projecting lips. It is 21 inches high. The catalogue includes a long quotation discussing this work from William Rubin, the former director of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art.

"This mask has one eye with an 'X.' Given the symmetry of the whole piece, it's at once an interesting and arresting aspect of it. Whether this had some kind of implication of a religious sort, we don't know. Whether the man who made was one-eyed or had some kind of facial tick, we can't know either. It may indeed only attach to a sense of artistic 'play' in the artist's mind. this is, some notion of opposition as opposed to similarity. The meaning for me here is the shock of contrast within a structure of similarity. Everything is not only othersiw symmetrical in this piece, but it is usually unified in the sense that it has one color. The color gives it a oneness, as does the symmetry. Then you have this single, boffo change - a perfect example of how artists did not just imitate models."

The lot has an estimate of $600,000 to $900,000. It sold for $768,000.

Hemba caryatid stool

Large detail of Lot 39, Hemba caryatid stool, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 18 inches high

Lot 39 is a "magnificent" Hemba caryatid stool from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The stool, which has an "exceptional circular chignon coiffure" and "exceptionally fine lustrous dark brown patina, is 18 inches high and was acquired by the Stanoffs from Merton D. Simpson of New York.

With her almost perfectly circular face and geometrically lovely coiffure and the quite dramatic and almost abstract handling of her hands, the stylized work is impressively beautiful even if it is missing the lower part of her legs and its base.

The lot has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $1,160,000, an auction record for a Hemba stool.

Maori figure

Lot 1, figure, Maori, New Zealand, 5 1/2 inches high

Lot 1 is a "superb" Maori figure that is 5 1/2 inches high. The catalogue entry suggests it was carved in the Rougowkakaata tribal style that was famous for its carving skills in the early 19th Century. The lot has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $57,000.

Bembe seated male figure

Lot 27, seated male figure, Bembe, Republic of the Congo, 7 inches high

Lot 27 is a "superb" Bembe seated male figure from the Republic of the Congo. The 7-inch figure holds a flywhisk to the back of his head and his small eyes are inset with porcelain. The work has an "exceptionally fine lustrous honey and reddish brown patina. The lot has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $132,000.

Tabwa paddle

Lot 40, paddle, Tabwa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 20 1/4 inches high

One of the most dramatic works in the auction is Lot 40, a 20 1/4-inch-high Tabwa paddle from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The catalogue notes that "the exact use of these paddles is not known," but suggests they were "linked to fecundity." The work is notable for the geometric styling of the "paddle" portion, the almost haughty pose of the head, the considerable scarification and the use of beads around both the neck and waist. It has a conservative estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $228,000.

Dan mask

Lot 16, mask, Dan, Ivory Coast, 8 inches high

Lot 16 is a lovely Dan mask from the Ivory Coast that is remarkable for the exceptional preservation of the headdress and qualty of the carving. It is 8 inches high. It has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $48,000.

Fang reliquary guardian figure

Lot 26, reliquary guardian, Fang, Gabon, 15 3/4 inches high

Lot 26 is a "fine" Fang reliquary guardian figure from Gabon that is 15 3/4 inches high. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $360,000.

Lega figure

Lot 47, Lega figure, 4 7/8 inches high

Lot 47 is a marvelously abstract Lega figure. Only 4 7/8 inches high, it is characterized in the catalogue as "superb" and it was formerly in the collections of J. J. Klejman and John Friede, both of New York.

"This Lega fiture with the zigzag body is arguably the most widely known work of African art in the Stanoff Collection," the catalogue entry notes, and was exhibited in the"Primitivism in 20th Century Art" exhibition in 1984-5 at the Museum of Modern Art. The entry also provides the following quotation from Mr. Stanoff recalling when he first saw the work:

"When I finally saw the piece, well, it just blew my mind. This Lega has everything going for it down to the smallest details. Look at that face, the way the eyelids droop and the expression of the mouth. Is this a seer? Is it someone telling us important information? Look at that vertical line down the entire back and the way the shoulders are thrown back from thehead."

Thelot has a modest estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $312,000.

Dogon seated figure

Lot 5, seated figure, Dogon, Mali, 11 inches high

Lot 5 is an extraordinary Dogon seated figure from Mali that is 11 inches high and described in the catalogue as "superb." Like Lot 47, it also was formerly in the Klejman and Friede collections and was acquired from Ben Birillo in the1970s. "One of the most striking examples of Dogon sculpture in the Bombu-Toro style, the subject figure was interpreted by Hèléne Leloup in her landmark book Dogon Statuary, as presenting a sick person with frail limbs, the right hand touching the left elbow showing a gesture asking for forgiveness....As the Dogon to not believe in natural causes for illness but attribute them instead to curses or transgressions..., in this sculpture the artist created an dramatic and touching metaphor for the self-imposed suffering of manking."

This work makes the spindly bronze stick figures of Giacometti look amateurish.

The lot has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $240,000.

It is the perfect companion to Lot 61, a Chinesco seated figure that the Stanoffs acquired about a decade earlier.

Chinesco seated figure

Lot 61, seated figure, Chinesco, Protoclassic, circa 100 B.C.-A.D. 250, 12 1/2 inches high

Described in the catalogue as "rare," Lot 61 is a fabulous masterpiece that is dated to the Protoclassic period, circa 100 B.C.-A.D. 250. It is 12 1/2 inches high but its slender form gives it a marvelous sense of monumentality.

The catalogue describes it as "the ultra-slender stylized body forming graceful, geometric openwork areas, showing a small smile on the tear-shaped head, with long slit eyes, and upturned nose adorned with a bead, the tall forehead with rounded convex coiffure, the curing columnar gack painted with spinal designs, and wearing a zigzag patterned loincloth with a wide belt low on the hips, and with armbands."

"This figure, above all others, epitomizes the language of the Stanoff Collection - economy of form, intensity of spirit, and monumentality surpassing actual size," the catalogue entry observed, adding that "Saul Stanoff considerted this the best piece within his Pre-Columbian collection, noting its evocative quality and architectural form."

The lot has a conservative estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $1,720,000, setting an auction record for a Pre-Columbian work of art.

Mayan standing figure

Lot 65, standing figure, Jaina, Maya, Late Classic, circa A.D. 550-950, 12 1/4 inches high

Lot 65, is a "fine Maya standing figure, Jaina, Late Classic, circa A.D. 550-950" that depicts "the regal lord of tall stature, garbed in attire as a victorious warrior, a staff or club once in the cupped right hand, his chiseled face with solemn expression, shaved forehead, full lips, closely shorn beard and mustache, and applied nose bridge extension, wearing the xicolli sleeveless vest, loincloth and belt adorned with thick row of shell danglers, his collar of massive peccary tusks centering a large shell, the majestic headdress with wavy brim supporting a cascade of plumed reeds arching behind, and with large medallions in front, his ears covered by jaguar ears, and holding a massive shield fringed by undulating feather band, a long bone and plumed disk at the top, and embossed with a deity face with scrolled brows, mouth curled open and tongue extended, and wearing lunate ear ornaments...."

In a word....sensational!

The 12 1/2-inch high work has a modest estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $432,000, setting an auction record for a Mayan figure.

Ceremonial dance rattle

Lot 69, ceremonial dance rattle, Northwest Coast, probably Bella Coola, 12 1/8 inches long

Lot 69 is a very impressive polychromed, ceremonial dance rattle from the Northwest Coast, probably Bella Coola. It is 12 1/8 inches long. The large globular head of "an unidentified creature carved in high-relief with stylized mask-like features...wearing a splayed headdress surmounted by an animal." The lot has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $72,000.

 

See The City Review Article on the William Brill Collection of African Art at Sotheby's November 17, 2006

See The City Review article on the Fall 2006 African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2005 African & Oceanic art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2005 African & Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2004 African & Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2004 African & Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's

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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