auction at Sotheby's November 14, 2003 is highlighted by several
fine masks amd sculptures including a superb Fang mask, a Diula
metal mask, two Kongo power figures, a Bembe nail fetish, an important
Hemba male ancestor figure, a rare Tabwa maternity figure, a Fang
female reliquary guardian figure, a Azande figure, a Yoruba male
shango shrine figure, a Cross River brass figure, a Mende messenger's
staff, and a Dogon staff, and an Ejagham headcrest.
The most striking work is Lot 68, a "superb" Fang mask,
or Ngontang, that is notable for its stylized moustache and its
marvelous surface that is thinly coated with a layer of kaolin.
The 14 ½-inch-high mask was once in the collection of Guy
Montbarbon of Paris and is quite magnificent.
The catalogue notes that "Fang masks of this type are iconic
in the lexicon of African art," adding that "They are
particularly recognizable from the well-documented dialogue between
African Art and the Modern art movement of the early twentieth
century. This style of mask, so characteristic and specific the
oval facial plane, the lenticular mouth and close-set eyes is
thought to be the work of a single carver or atelier active at
the turn-of-the-century in Gabon, a time when most of these masks
are subsequently recorded in European collections."
It has a conservative estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold
for $78,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned
in this article.
are two impressive
Kongo power figures, Lots 78 and 87. The former is unusual for
its crouching pose with muscular arms grasping the knees and a
single metal spike inserted at the sternum. The 16 ¼-inch
figure has a layered and encrusted dark brown patina with areas
of ochre pigment. The work was collected by a French Navy commissar
and returned to Paris before 1880. It has a mirror at the center.
The lot has an estimate of $35,000 to $45,000. It sold for
of the most powerful
African works are noise in which figures have been prominently
"nailed," an example of which is Lot 87, a "magnificent"
Kongo power figure that is 22 ¼ inches high and has a varied
and encrusted blackened patina with traces of red ochre. This
type of figure is known as a nkisi nkondi and has
inset with many iron nails and fragmentary blades that encircle
a hollowed rectangular cavity at the center. The catalogue notes
that "blades and nails are inserted into these power figures
as a means to resolve conflict." "The healer, nganga,
may have the parties involved in the arbitration lick the blades
before they are inserted, thus binding them to their oaths. This
measure is visually symbolized by the aggressive extended tongue
on the offered lot which is further highlighted with red pigment.
Each blade is a condensation of the words and oaths of the conflict
at hand, mambu. Further, the figure stands with his
on his hips, the pakalala gesture, symbolizing its
to take on any dispute."
The lot, which has inset oval porcelain eyes, has an estimate
of $70,000 to $100,000. It sold for $84,000.
similar figure, albeit,
from a different region and one that is missing its feet, is Lot
77, a "rare" Bembe nail fetish that is 21 5/8 inches
high. Collected in 1915 by Jacques Roquet, the governor of the
French Congo, has a torso that is decorated with raised asymmetrical
scarification. The head is notable for the pronounced beard. It
has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $30,000.
Lot 82 is an "important" Hemba male ancestor figure
that is 24 3/8 inches high. The catalogue notes that "the
majestic figure" rises from fragmentary legs and wears a
woven cloth beneath a protruding abdomen. It has a "sensitively
carved face encircled by a dentil-molded beard, the noble expression
highlighted by downcast eyes beneath arching brows and a sweeping
forehead to the back, and wearing an elegant ornate backswept
cruciform coiffure," the catalogue continued, adding that
it has an "exceptionally fine, layered encrusted dark brown
patina." The catalogue also observes that this figure "stylistically
can be placed in the zone south of the Luika River to the east
of the Zaire River in the Yambula chefferie."
It has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for
as Lot 82 is, it
cannot compare with Lot 95, a "fine and rare" Tabwa
maternity figure that is 20 ¼ inches high. This exquisite
sculpture of a mother carrying a child on her back comes from
the collection of Deborah Stokes Hammer of Chicago. It had been
collected in the Ujiji region around 1880 and given by Victor
Wright to the Royal Scottish Museum in 1924. The Denver Art Museum
acquired it 1949 and it was subsequently acquired by Ernst Anspach
of New York and shown in an exhibition of his collection at the
Museum of Primitive Art in New York in 1967-8. This is a very
fine work and has a very conservative estimate of $25,000 to $35,000.
It sold for 33,000.
44 is an Ejagham headcrest
that is extremely powerful. The 13-inch-high work rises from a
hollowed, domed base with a bastketry attachment and the
figure is in a crouching position with bent articulated legs and
arms with an open mouth with raised coffee bean eyes inset with
kaolin beneath what the catalogue describes as a "severe
brow and coiffure comprised of a series of vertical raised nodules;
the whole overlaid by skin, fine blackened patina. The memorable
work was collected by Phillipe Guimiot in the 1960s and is very,
very conservatively estimated at $3,000 to $4,000 since it is
one of the finest works in the auction. It failed to sell.
excellent work is
Lot 74, a "rare" Azande figure from the estate of Harold
and Florence Rome. The 10 ¼-inch-high figure has a narrow
waist encircled by a metal ring and a protruding navel encircled
by metal. The diamond-shaped head is notable for its deeply notched
coiffure and the ears are pierced for the attachment of the cascading
metal rings that seem disportionately large. It has an estimate
of $12,000 to $18,000. It sold for $45,000.
good companion for Lot
74 is Lot 43, a "rare" Cross River brass female figure
decorated with repeating spiral motifs and traces of red ochre.
The catalogue notes that "Examples of Cross River bronzes
have been tested by thermoluminescence, dating them to as early
as the mid-17th Century," adding that according to one expert
"in the Cross River region the lost-wax casting method appears
to have died out towards the end of the 19th Century." This
lot has a modest estimate of $5,000 to $7,000. It sold for
69 in a very imposing
Fang female reliquary guardian figure that is 23 ¼ inches
high and was collected in Gabon in 1925 by Dr. Landet, an ethnographer.
The work, which has a fine aged and varied blackened patina, is
notable for the muscular treatment of the upper arms and for the
superb head. The catalogue notes that the "magnificent"
work may date to the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It
has an estimate of $200,000 to $250,000. It sold for $187,200.
39 is a "fine and
rare" Diula metal mask that was once in the Jay C. Leff Collection,
which was exhibited at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in
1969-1970. The catalogue notes that are only 15 known examples
of this type of mask, which is made of European pewter, a combination
of tin and lead and overlaid with alternating brass and copper
strips. This handsome note has a modest estimate of $25,000 to
$35,000. It sold for $24,000.
Lot 11 is a fine and "rare" Mende messenger's staff
that was collected by the Rev. and Mrs. J. M. Lesher in Sierra
Leone, circa 1995. The 28-inch-high sculpture is surmounted by
a hat. This is a very nice work and has a modest estimate of $10,000
to $15,000. It sold for $9,600.
One of the
most interesting works in the auction is Lot 7, a "fine "
Dogon staff that is 18 ½ inches high. It is comprised of
three figures. It was photographed by Marcel Griaule in the field
in 1935 most likely during his third mission to Maili. It has
a modest estimate of $7,000 to $10,000. It sold for $27,000.