african masksSothebys New York report 11 Nov 05
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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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Sothebys New York report 11 Nov 05

Sotheby's African art department
1334 York Avenue at 72nd St
New York, New York 10021
USA Tel: (212) 606-7000

by Lee Rubinstein  lrubinstein*post.harvard.edu  

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Although, generally speaking, auctions are not my main focus, they do often offer interesting and noteworthy examples of major traditional forms.  It can be interesting -- and both illuminating and strange at once -- to look at the relative valuation of productions originating from specific cultural traditions as evidenced in what is offered, what sells and what is deemed worthy of presentation and purchase.  Be that as it may,  Sotheby's catalogues -- on line or in print -- often offer, somewhat unevenly but sometimes richly, good research as well.  So, I did find myself studying some of the offerings and results and wanted to share some of my observations.
 
Of the 130 African objects offered, 75 lots or roughly 58% sold -- which means, of course, that 42% or 55 lots did not.  (I have no information regarding any lots that might have been withdrawn, if any.) Taking the over-all sales figure (with premium) of $2,223,560 minus $452,000 in sales of 25 Oceanic objects, the total sales in African objects for this sale totaled approximately $1,781,000. 
 
Of the 75 African objects which did sell, about half sold above their pre-auction estimates, 21 sold within the anticipated range, and 17 sold below the published estimates  -- and again, 55 did not sell.  More than half -- about 40 of the 75 -- of the objects which did sell were sold for under $10,000 with another 15 selling between $10-25K and about 10 in the $25-50K range. Six lots were sold in the $50-100K range with the majority of these moving in the higher end of the range.  Five Lots sold for a Final Price over $100,000.
 
The sold objects which brought in the highest bids -- and generally are supported with good information and/or references in their descriptions are below (with lnks):
LOT 32

PROPERTY FROM THE JEFFREY SWANSON COLLECTION
A RARE AND MAGNIFICENT BAGA MALE DRUM

150,000—250,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   180,000 USD

#32 -- The Baga Male Drum  sold for $180,000 (sold in the lower half of the estimate range of $150-250K);

LOT 34

PROPERTY FROM THE RAYMOND E. BRITT FAMILY COLLECTION
A SUPERB BAMANA ANTELOPE HEADDRESS

40,000—60,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   78,000 USD

#34 -- A Beledougou region Bamana Tyi Wara Antelope Headdress from the Britt Collection at $78,000 went for well above the $40-60K estimate;

LOT 74

PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF MARIDA HINES BRINKWORTH
A SUPERB YORUBA EPA HELMET MASK BY BAMGBOYE OF ODO OWO (CA. 1895 - 1978)

40,000—60,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   102,000 USD

#74 -- A Yoruba Epa Mask carved by Bamgboye of Odo Owo that had been purchased directly from the artist by William Ian Brinkworth in 1956 was expected to sell between $40-60K.  .  Auction price:  $102K

LOT 79

PROPERTY FROM AN AMERICAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
A RARE AND IMPORTANT YORUBA DOOR BY OLOWE OF ISE (CA. 1875-1936), PROBABLY FOR IKÉRÉ PALACE

180,000—280,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   216,000 USD

#79 -- A Yoruba Door (Ilekun) by Olowe of Ise previously from the Franklin Collection sold within the lower half of its estimated range between $180-280K at $216K.

LOT 104

A SUPERB GURO MASK

30,000—50,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   84,000 USD

#104 -- A Guro Mask "possibly acquired from Julius Carlebach" at $84K -- sold for well above the $30-50K estimate.  (See below that other Guro and related works, though limited, were not so successfully offered, including works from the featured Britt Family Collection.)

LOT 105

A MAGNIFICENT MANGBETU HARP

50,000—70,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   102,000 USD

#105-- A Mangbetu Harp formerly from Han Coray for $102K, was purchased well above the $50-70K expected.

 
LOT 108

PROPERTY FROM THE RAYMOND E. BRITT FAMILY COLLECTION
A RARE LENGOLA FIGURE

50,000—70,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   90,000 USD

#108 -- A Lengola Ubanga Nyami Figure form the Britt Family Collection at $108K, also went well above the $50-70K estimate.

LOT 140

PROPERTY FROM THE RAYMOND E. BRITT FAMILY COLLECTION
A RARE LWALWA PAIR OF MALE AND FEMALE FIGURES

40,000—60,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   60,000 USD

#140 -- The Lwalwa Pair of Figures from the Britt Collection was sold at the high estimate of $60K.

LOT 161

PROPERTY FROM AN ENGLISH PRIVATE COLLECTION
A SUPERB SOUTHEAST AFRICAN PRESTIGE STAFF

20,000—30,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   72,000 USD

and #161 an early 20th century South African Prestige Staff by the Baboon Master brought in $72K . 

 
The greatest cultural concentration -- with the most works offered and purchased -- was the group of ten Yoruba works offered;  seven objects sold.  Notably featured were works by renowned carvers Olowe of Ise(-Ekiti) and Bamgboye.  Along with the Baga drum (#32 below) and the Mangbetu Harp (#105), Bamgboye's Epa Mask and Olowe's Ilekun Door Panel were two of the four highest priced items sold at $102K and $216K, respectively.  Three additional Yoruba works (# 81, 82 and 83) sold higher than their estimates while two (#76 and 77) sold lower;  three other Yoruba works did not sell, including a beautiful Ifa divination board, a pair of Ogboni Edan figures and a Helmet Mask (#75, 78 & 80.).
 
Among other Nigerian works offered, the lone Igbo work (#68), an Ikenga, was not sold nor were two of three Ibibio items.  One Ibibio Mask (#72) sold below its estimate, while two other masks (#70 & 73) failed to sell.  Likewise, an Ekoi Crest Mask (#71) went unsold. 
LOT 69

PROPERTY FROM THE RAYMOND E. BRITT FAMILY COLLECTION
A MUMUYE FIGURE

3,000—5,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   11,400 USD

Three Mumuye figures -- from the Britt Collection (#69) and the Harry A. Franklin Family Collection  (Lots #65 & 67) did sell in the $6.6-14.4K range but two of the three figures netted less than their expected prices.  The fourth Mumuye figure, also from the Franklin Collection, (#66) did not sell.  Personally, none of these represented the finest of the Mumuye figures I have seen. 

 
Other figures from the Nigeria-Cameroon border regions -- including a Wurkun figure (#87) and a Kaka figure (#91) did not sell.  The Mambila figure with outstretched arms, however, that Rand had mentioned for the postural resemblance of its outstretched arms to the Lengola Ubanga Nyami and Lobi Bateba Ti Puo, did sell for a very reasonable $7.2K, above its estimated price.
 
From east of the Nigeria-Cameroon border, not one of the four Bamum lots offered -- three stools and a mask (#88, 89, 90 and #92) --  found any buyers in spite of relatively strong sales of recently offered lots from the region, including Bamum stools.  #103, the "Male Terra Cotta Figure, possibly Cameroon" did succeed in reaching a new home but did so at a final price below its estimate at just over $4K. 
 
Half of the eight Kongo objects (the second highest cultural concentration) that were offered sold with three (119, 121 and 122 -- a cross, a nkisi and a mtadi) above their estimates and one (#117 -- another cross) below.  The four Kongo objects which did not sell included a mask, a cross and a fly whisk (#115, 118 and 120) as well as #116 -- a Nkisi Nkondi figure which was expected to sell within the $250-450K range, the most highly estimated unsold Lot of the auction.  Additionally, a Yombe mask (#106) sold for just under $10K, below its estimate.
 
Five of the seven Bamana works offered were sold.   The two exceptions were the N'tomo Society Mask (#35) previously from the Harry Franklin Collection offered via an "American Private Collection"  and  the jonyeleni Female Figure (#38) from "a European Collection" that had no published provenance and was supported by references to similar well-published figures in lieu of actual provenance.  In this case, no actual exhibition or publication history meant no sale of this object.  Or perhaps these less spectacular works were passed over in favor of the other Bamana works, most of which sold higher than their estimates (e.g., the Tyi Wara (#34 above)...   A Bamana Boli (#36) at $8.4K sold at the low end of the estimate range...  Two Tyi Waras #'s (#99 &101) of very different styles and acquired through J.J. Klejman and Henri Kamer, respectively -- each sold for $36K, exceeding their estimates in the $10-25K range.   The Bamana Female Marionette Figure (#100) with Kamer (and Gertrud Mellon) provenance exceeded its estimate as well when it sold for $16,800.  Four Dogon objects -- 2 figures, a mask and a staff -- did sell within or above their estimates although modestly in the range of $4.5-14.4k, but there were no Dogon works prominently featured in this particular sale.
 
As a follow-up to objects previously mentioned in the discussion group (see Message #629 )that have not yet been considered here...yet... the "Sierra Leone, Probably Mende, Figure (#31) did sell within its estimate range for $27K, while  the Senufo kponiugo Helmet Mask  (#60) and the Senufo Equestrian Figure (#61) did not sell. A Senufo deble Rhythm Pounder  (#59) did sell for $24k, but the price realized was below the estimate.  In general, the Senufo items presented were not particularly well received with 4 of 6 lots remaining unsold. 
 
LOT 46

PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN COLLECTION
A FINE BAULE MASK

12,000—18,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   27,000 USD

Baule objects seem also to be continually prized with #46, a small Baule mask (8.5", 22 cm) being sold for $27K, well above the $12-18K estimate.  A Baule male figure (#49) from the Britt Family Collection also exceeded its estimate of $8-12K by bringing in $18K.  Traveling within that general region of Burkina Faso through the Ivory Coast and into Ghana, an uncommon Bwa figure (#57) sold within its estimated range at $7.8K and a Bwa Mask (#40) sold below with a third Bwa object, a bracelet (#54) left unsold.  A Bete Mask (#52) also sold conservatively under its estimate as did the lone Bafana Bedu plank mask (#63), while the Lobi pair (#64) -- the only Lobi offering in this auction -- went unsold.  Similarly, the lone Dan mask (#48) sold modestly within its range at $3K;  the solitary Temne offering, a mask (#33), did not sell.  Whereas the Guro Mask offered as Lot #104 netted a remarkable $84K, the Britt Yaure Mask (#45) and another Guro Mask (#47) from an unnamed collection did not sell in spite of starting prices much lower than #104.. 

LOT 43

A FINE ATTIE FEMALE FIGURE

6,000—9,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   11,400 USD

Two lots of Ashanti Gold Sword Ornaments (#50 & 53) and a group of six "Lagoon Area, probably Ashanti Pendants" (#51) met or exceeded their estimates, selling between $4.5-7.8K while an Attie Female Figure (#43) exceeded its estimate, selling for $11.4K.  (see http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/sub.asp?key=15&subkey=1492 for info on a related, current "West African Gold" exhibition at the Boston MFA.)

 
Two Fon power figures offered (#84 & 85) did not sell.
 
Again looking East and South, three BaKota reliquary figures (#93, 94 & 102) sold at or above their estimates ranging from $9.6-21.6K, yet a BaKota Emboli or Mbota helmet mask (#95 -- Estimate:  $50-70K), in spite of the professed rarity, and a BaKota bracelet (#55) found no bidders. A Mitsogo gong (#96) did sell within its range, however, for $7.2K, while the two Punu lots, a mask (#97) and a figure (#98) remained unsold. 
 
Further South and east...Among the Zairean lots offered were, of course, the Lwalwa Pair of Carved Figures (#140) noted and linked above, a featured Lot which was among the major sales completed. Also,  a Yaka figure (#124) sold in its range for $6K but a Yaka head-dress (#141) went unsold.  The ambivalent response to the offerings (and/or their prices) from this region extend further East to the Pende Lots with three objects, a mortar (#123), a set of three stools (#131) and a staff (#133) at or above their estimates and three other Pende objects, including two masks (#126 & 127) and an adze (#135), remaining unsold. On the other hand, the lone Songye Lot (#125), a Power Figure from the Britt Family Collection, sold much higher than the expected $15-25K estimate at $39K.
 
Other Zairean/Congolese offerings included the Britt Bembe Figure (#138), which sold within its range at $8.4K while the other Bembe offering, A "Bembe Couple" (#111) with a low starting estimate between $5-7K did not sell.  The two Lele Divination Implements both sold at $3.9K each, just under the $4K estimate placed on each of these object assemblages.  The Britt's Luba-Hemba Torso sold modestly at its low estimate figure of $3K while a Luba stool (#136) collected in 1902 and in the Linden Museum in Stuttgart from 1902-1965 drew well over its estimate of $10-15K when it achieved a Final Price of just over $25,000; and a Hemba Male Ancestor Figure (#139) without provenance beyond an unnamed "West Coast" Collection achieved its low estimate of $30K.  The fourth item offered from the Luba-Hemba complex of figures and objects was #137, a "Shankandi Female Bowl Bearer" from the Rosenberg Collection;  it did not achieve its $18K minimum estimate and failed to sell.  Individual works from the Ngbaka (#107 -- a mask), Tabwa (#132 -- a staff) and Kete (#144 -- another mask) did not sell; but both Chokwe masks offered did sell.  The Britt chihongo (#142) sold low and below its estimate at $2.4K, whereas the truly lovely Mwana Pwo exceeded its estimate of $6-9K with a Final Price of $12K.
LOT 109

PROPERTY FROM THE RAYMOND E. BRITT FAMILY COLLECTION
A FINE LEGA MASK

12,000—18,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   27,000 USD measurements 
height of mask 4 1/2 in. 11.4cm
of diminutive form, the convex facial plane with abbreviated features and a carved handle at the reverse with a long raffia beard attached; fine aged surface with layers of kaolin.

PROVENANCE George Stoecklin, France, November 1978

EXHIBITED Notre Dame, Indiana, Traditional African Sculpture from the Britt Family Collection, The Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, October 24 - December 19, 1982

Underlining the continuing passion for and interest in Lega material culture, three (#109, 110 & 114) of the four Lega offerings exceeded their estimates.  The tiny (4.5") mask with extended raffia "beard" (#109) exceeded its estimate of $12-18K and sold for $27K, while the 8" figure (#110) also exceeded its $18-22K estimate with a sales price of $30K.   The 5" Ivory Figure (#114) drew $9K, $2K above its high estimate, while the fourth item (#113), a wooden iginga figure (towering at over 11.5 inches!) sold under its estimate at $3.6K.  The Britt Family Collection's Lengola ubanga nyami (#108), as highlighted above, sold for $90K. 

 
Another of the highlights of the sale came from the region North of the Lega and Lengola with the sale of the Mangbetu Harp from Han Coray (#105) exceeding its estimate and $100K.  (See link above.)  The other Mangbetu offering, a stool (#128), sold at the high end of its estimate for $11.4K.  Also notable was the sale for $45K of the Belanda Male Figure by Usta Ukun (#145). See http://www.tribalarts.com/feature/bongo/   for more detailed information on the funerary sculptural traditions from  this region.  Incidentally, a Konso female figure (#146) was also offered but did not sell.  Ethiopian offerings included several crosses and a gameboard.  The Gameboard (#155) was the only Ethiopian Lot sold, modestly at its low estimate of $3K, while the three crosses -- an impressive historical and material array -- (#148,149 & 150) did not sell.
 
Rounding out the sale and the geography...  In spite of the considerable success of Makonde Lots at the previous Sotheby's, NYC, auction, the lone Makonde offering, from the Britt Collection, did not sell.  A Shoowa Ivory Pestle (#134) sold in its range for $4.8K along with the stellar sale of the "Southeast African Prestige Staff" (#161 -- see link above).  One Sakalava Figure (#152) did sell modestly below its estimate, whereas the remainder of Southern and Eastern African offerings were not sold, including Sakalava and Vezo figures (#151, 153 & 154), two Shona neckrests (#156 & 157), and a Zulu neckrest (#158).
LOT 159

PROPERTY FROM A WEST COAST COLLECTION
A SELECTION OF BOOKS ON AFRICAN ART

5,000—7,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   10,200 USD
lot 159 including: Delange, J., M. Leiris, F. Girard, H. Lehmann, M. Simoni, Et Al. CHEFS-D’OUEUVRE DU MUSEE DE L’HOMME, Musee de l’Homme, Paris, (1965); Guillaume, P., T. Munro. PRIMITIVE NEGRO SCULPTURE, London, (1926); Joyce, T. A., O. Dalton, C. Read, BRITISH MUSEUM HANDBOOK TO THE ETHNOGRAPHICAL COLLECTIONS, British Museum, (1910); refer to the department for a complete listing of the 256 titles.

Among the stronger "African" sales was also a collection of 256 books on African art (#159) which brought $10,200, perhaps the single lot I would most like to have acquired. 

 
Any thoughts or impressions?
 
Lee Rubinstein  lrubinstein*post.harvard.edu    

see also Sothebys New York report 11 Nov 05 part2

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Omhoog
Sothebys New York report 11 Nov 05
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sothebys new york nov 06 

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