African and Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's is highlighted by
many superb and unusual works.
Although only about two-thirds of the offered lots sold,
of the finest lots went above their high estimates, reflecting
the market's concentration on quality.
front and back covers of the auction's catalogue are illustrated
with Lot 91, a very powerful and superb Tshowke male chief figure
that is 24 1/2 inches high. The statue is in near perfect condition
except for the missing tip of one figure and it has a marvelous
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"This rare chief figure, mwanagana, or 'lord of the land,'
was carved in the Muzamba school, near the Kwango river in Angola.
The very distinctive Muzamba style in expressed in the mask-like
face and aggressive mouth in which the pointed teeth protrude
slightly and are outlined by a defined, oval mouth.The offered,
large-scale chief figure is the third Muzamba figure known of
this proportion and particularly expressive quality, particularly
in the mouth. Of the [other] two neither compares to the dynamism
demonstrated in the offered figure's expressive features and turned,
flexed gesture. In addition, the sculptor of the offered lot has
placed great emphasis on the elaborate headdress."
The lot has an estimate and $150,000 to $250,000 and sold for
$240,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned
in this article.
One of the
more spectacular pieces in the auction is Lot 47, a Yoruba Epa
headdress, Bamgboye or atelier of Bamgboye. This 54-inch-high
work has a janiform helmet-mask that supports a circular platform
on which is an elaborate court scene with white and blue pigment
surmounted by the seated central chief figure. Bamgboye, Chief
Alaga of Odo-owa, near Osi in Nigeria, the Yoruba carver, died
in 1978 and had carved elaborate masks for the Epa festivals of
northern Ekiti towns. The catalogue notes that "this mask
compares very closely with its magnificent hierarchical composition,
Bamgboye's trademark, to another Epa mask in the collection of
the Detroit Institute of Arts." It has an estimate of $20,000
to $30,000 and sold for $34,655.
Lot 1 is
a "superb and rare" Bamana female figure from the Ségou-Saro
region. The 22 3/4-inch high statue is highly stylized with elongated
neck and head and huge hands. Created for use by the Jo
society on the Niger River in south-central Mali, it is one of
fewer than 20 known examples. It has an estimate of $40,000 to
$60,000 and sold for $83,650.
Another Yoruba piece is Lot 56, a "superb" Gelede mask
from the Anago area. The 11 3/4-inch-high mask is very finely
carved and is notable for its abstract angular ears and scarification
markings. It has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000 and sold
Lot 7 is
a very interesting Toma/Kissi protective figure that is 16 inches
high with a hollowed body protecting an inset standing male pomdo
soapstone figure with worn facial features. The main figure has
a ringed neck and ritual abrasion on the mouth, with a band of
brass bells around the neck. The head and neck of the main figure
have a nice dark patina while the exposed wood of the main body
of the main figure indicates it was once wrapped in cloth. The
lot has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000 and sold for $22,705.
Lot 61 is
a "fine and rare" Sikasingo/Boyo female figure that
is quite remarkable for its angularity, especially in the treatment
of the left arm. The 8-inch-high statue was once in the collection
of Ernest Anspach. It has an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000 and
sold for $7,710.
Lot 79 is an intriguing small Yombe minature Nikisi figure. Only
4 1/2 inches tall, it has a large head that is tilted slightly
backwards and an angular posture with wrappings abound the legs
and neck. It has an estimate of $1,200 to $1,800 and sold for
Lot 84 is
an impressive Fang marionette head that is 12 inches high. "Unlike
the more well known Fang reliquary guardian heads which often
have a black and resinous patina, this head resembles more closely
the Fang ngil masks in both form, surface and
It has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000 and sold for
Lot 94 is
a stunning Zulu vessel, 21 1/4 inches high, with an elaborate
and very impressive framework of ribbed handles. It was consigned
by the Collection of Estelle Abrams and has an estimate of $8,000
to $12,000. It sold for $54,775.
Oceanic Art section of the auction offers several wonderful works.
is a "rare and important" fernwood figure from Vanuatu,
Banks Island, probably Venua Lava. The 46 1/2-inch-high figure
is wonderfully stylized with hunched head and extended arms grasping
the west. The work was once in the collection of Sir Jacob Epstein
of London and Ben Heller of New York. It has an estimate of $50,000
to $70,000 and sold for $113,625.
is a "fine and rare" Vanuatu, Southern Malekula, Grade-Society
headdress that is 13 inches high and decorated with red ochre,
black and white mineral pigment. It is made of fernwood, fiber
and vegetal paste over a wood structure and is distinguished by
"side-tresses in the form of hands," according to the
catalogue. It has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000 and sold
dramatic is Lot 146, a "rare" New Britain, Gazelle Peninsula,
Uramot Baining People, mask that was formerly in the collections
of the Hiltrup Mission Museum in Muenster, Germany, and Wayne
Heathcote. The 61-inch-high mask was worn at night by the Uramot
Baining who live in the mountainous interior of the Gazelle Peninsula
and were used during performances known as "snake dances,"
the catalogue noted. The highly stylized mask has huge eyes beneath
very large panels that allegedly represent tree forks. It has
an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000 and sold for $21,510.
Lot 187 is a beautiful war and dancing club from the Fijian
Islands. Collected by the Rev. Joseph Waterhouse between 1850
and 1857, it was formerly in the Wayne Heathcote Collection. It
has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000 and sold for $56,762.
An even more impressive dance club is Lot 176 from the Nadroga
Navosa area, Viti Levu, Fiji Islands. The 43-inch-high club has
the same provenance as Lot 187 but a much more intricately carved
top. It has an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000 and sold for