A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
But first in Sotheby's New York, May 12
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Morigi auction details
Baule statue of a seated woman, Ivory Coast. height 42 cm, estimate: 280,000/330,000 €.
The Paolo Morigi collection is a unique ensemble, a combination of the most
prestigious provenances in the field and pieces of never less than outstanding
quality. The collection of 150 works also illustrates the history of the Western
world's perception of African art since and its influence on some of the
greatest 20th century artists.
Paolo Morigi, a Swiss citizen of Italian origin, nurtured a passion for African art for more than forty years. Following in the footsteps of two of the greatest pioneers in this area, G.F. Keller and Han Coray, he roamed areas of West Africa, such as the CTMte d'Ivoire and Liberia, building up a wealth of knowledge on the subject of African art. At the end of the 1960s he acquired the Han Coray collection of African art, followed in 1989 by the G.F. Keller collection. He continued adding to his collection right up in the late 1980s.
The Georges F. Keller collection forms the nucleus of the Paolo Morigi
collection. Georges Frédéric Keller (1899-1981), who worked closely with
Albert C. Barnes (Philadelphia) and the Mellon family, began his career as a
modern art dealer in Paris in the 1920s and in 1930 took over the running of the
Georges Petit gallery. It is from this period that his collaboration with Dali
dates, a collaboration that was to continue until 1963. He became a partner in
New York's Bignou Gallery Inc. in 1936 before joining forces with Roland Balay
to open the Carstairs Gallery, which he managed from 1949 to 1963.
Georges F. Keller was passionate about African art, acquiring his first sculpture at the age of 19. In 1931, he was appointed as a valuer alongside Charles Ratton and Louis Carré for the sale of the André Breton and Paul Eluard collections (HTMtel Drouot, Paris, 2/3 July 1931), a sale now looked back on as an historic event. African art gradually became his main interest and in 1951 he entrusted his collection of modern art to the Fine Arts Museum of Berne, in order to live surrounded only by his African sculptures. In 1980, the Berne museum exhibited some 300 works collected by Keller under the title Art of Africa and Oceania - an unknown private collection. He invited his young friend Paolo Morigi to catalogue the exhibition.
Han Coray (1880-1974), whose name is linked to many of the works in the Morigi collection, was one of the greatest turn-of-the-century collectors of African art and the first in Switzerland to exhibit these objects as works of art in their own right. In 1917 one of his Zurich galleries hosted the very first exhibition by the Dada movement, which also included a number of items of art nègre. The exhibition caught the interest of the artistic avant-garde in Europe, in particular Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara and Hans Richter.
The Paolo Morigi collection brings together works from two collections acquired in succession by Han Coray. The first, exhibited in 1931 at the Museum für Völkerkunde in Munich, was dispersed in 1940 and the second was the subject of the book entitled Meisterwerke Altafrikanischer Kultur aus der Sammlung Casa Coray published by Han Coray and Paolo Morigi in 1968.
Some of the works gathered together here by Paolo Morigi trace their provenance to collections of Guillaume Apollinaire, Pierre Matisse, Georges de Miré, Charles Ratton and André Fourquet, and bear eloquent witness to the keenness of their eye for the aesthetic quality of Africa's artistic heritage.
The collection contains a number of rare pieces of remarkable aesthetic quality.
From the former Han Coray Lugano-Agnuzzo collection comes a Songye cupbearer
from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the geometrical volumes of the body
extended by a long ringed neck topped by a head with powerfully-carved features.
This exceptional form takes its inspiration from two traditions, the Songye
ancestor figures and the Luba cupbearers. Only one other comparable example is
known, which is in the ethnographic museum of Tervuren (height 59 cm, estimate:
350 000 - 450 000 €*). From the same region comes a Songye male power figure,
whose strength is accentuated by numerous attributes attesting to the power of
his function (height 115 cm, estimate: 120.000/160.000 €).
A Baule statue of a seated man with his hands clasping the tip of his beard from the CTMte d'Ivoire, (and formerly part of the Georges de Miré collection) is remarkable as much for its formal balance as for the extreme refinement of its headdress ornamentation and its scarifications. (height 42 cm, estimate: 300 000/350 000 €).
Acquired from Paris dealer Ascher in 1925-1926, a Baule statue of a seated woman is striking in the exceptional nature of the sculpture and its patina combined with the great rarity of the pose: head slightly bent, gaze fixed on the bracelet adorning her left wrist (height 49 cm, estimate: 280.000/330.000 €).
One of the historic pieces of this collection is a Bamum throne from the Cameroon Grasslands. The circular top is supported by ten mother-and-child caryatids, their faces and bodies metal-plated. Considered the finest royal seat ever to come from the Grasslands, it featured as one of the flagship exhibits at the historic African Negro Art exhibition held at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1935 (height 54 cm, diam. 58 cm, estimate: 600.000/900.000 €).
The collection also boasts a spectacular set of five Kota reliquary figures from Gabon. One of them is from the former collection of General Dagnan in Nice, a close friend of collector André Fourquet who acquired a number of pieces from this region from him. (height 53 cm estimate: 120.000/150.000 €).
Another, from the collection once owned by Pierre Matisse, belongs to the so-called "classic" style of Kota reliquary figures and reveals a perfect equilibrium of form which, in conjunction with its size, gives a superb impression of majesty (height 62 cm, estimate: 100.000/150.000 €).
Among the female statues is a Guro statue from the CTMte d'Ivoire, acquired from Parisian dealer Ascher in the 1920s. While Guro art is known primarily for its masks and weaving-loom pulleys, Guro statuary is rare and little represented in Western collections. Its outstanding aesthetic qualities coupled with the sense of power it exudes, entitles this statue to be considered one of the very finest expressions of Guro sculpture Guro (height 45 cm, estimate: 100.000/130.000 €).
Collectors preferences have meant that in many cases only the carved face of a
tribal mask has been preserved. Paolo Morigi was an exception to this trend and
preferred the mask in its most complete form, along with its headdress and
original attributes. The collection offers some stunning examples.
Paolo Morigi thus preserved the identity of a number of carved faces, such as a Dan/Mano female mask from Liberia wearing a conical headdress made from a long strip of fabric sewn with cowry shells and topped by a spectacular plume of feathers (height 93 cm). The headdress identifies it as an entertainment mask worn during masquerades by the Sandé women's society (estimate: 12.000/18.000 €).
The most important is a large oval Guerze or Loma mask from Liberia, its forehead circled by a strip of red cloth supporting a crown of feathers. Comparable to the example in the New Orleans Museum of Art, it was worn only on special occasions, such as on the return of young initiates from the bush school and, in certain cases, as part of the Poro initiation ceremony (height 78 cm, estimate: 25.000/35.000 €).
Paolo Morigi also placed great value on works that bear a closer resemblance to collage than to sculpture. Two Kru masks from Liberia present an impressive appearance made up of an accumulation of forms, materials and attributes, symbolically reinforcing their power. The purpose of masks of this type, used in the Poro initiation ceremony, was to inspire fear in young initiates and outsiders (estimate: 8.000/12.000 € each - illustrated right).
di un amatore d'arte primitiva
Author: Paolo Morigi
Publisher: Kunstmuseum, Bern, 1980
Description: Cloth, folio, 474 pp., 335 objects depicted in monochrome plates. Text in Italian, German, and French.
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