By Carter B. Horsley
The Fall 2008 auction of
African, Oceanic and
Pre-Columbian Art at Sotheby's is the spectacular and very important
collection of Frieda and Milton Rosenthal who lived in Westchester
County and bought many masterpieces from Helena Rubenstein, Nelson
Rockefeller John J. Klejman.
The auction was extremely
successful with 117
of 118 offered works selling for $10,859,944.
Lot 94 is a highly stylized and
"magnificent "Rapa Nui" male figure from Easter
Island that is 16 1/2 inches high. It has an estimate of $250,000
to $350,000. It sold for $614,500, including the buyer's
as do all results mentioned in this article, an auction record
for an Easter Island sculpture.
Lot 56 is an "important" Fang
reliquary figure from Gabon that is 20 3/8 inches high. The work
was once in the collections of Paul Tishman of New York and John
J. Klejman of New York. It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.
It sold for $266,500. The work is notable for the
of the figure's shoulders and the rings around his legs.
Lot 60 is a "superb and rare
ancestor figure" from the Democratic Republic on the Congo.
It is 23 3/4 inches high and was once in the collection of John
J. Klejman of New York. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.
It sold for $530,300.
The cover illustration of the
Lot 63, a "magnificent and highly important" Senufo
pair of male and female ancestor figures from the Ivory Coast.
The male figure is 45 5/8 inches high. The pair was previously
in the collections of John J. Klejman of New York, Nelson A.
of New York and The Museum of Primitive Art in New York and had
been sold in 1967 at Parke Bernet Galleries in New York. The lot
has been widely published and exhibited and has an estimate of
$3,000,000 to $5,000,000. It sold for $4,002,500, an auction
record for a Senufo sculpture.
Lot 32 is a superb Yoruba
from Nigeria that is 14 1/4 inches high. It has an estimate of
$20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $31,250.
In an essay on the lot
in the catalogue,
John Pemberton III, Crosby Professor of Religion, Emeritus, at
Amherst College, provides the following commentary:
"This splendid carving for an
masquerade is one of five sculpted in the late 19th or early 20th
century by an unknown carver in the Anago area of southwest Yorubaland,
on the order with the Republic of Benin.....As in all gelede
there is a basic contrast between the composed face and the drama
of the superstructure. The hand of this master carver, however,
is initially suggested by the angular definition of the ear, similar
to, but more severe than, that employed by other Anago and Egbado
carvers. Far more distinctive our artists's hard are the rows
of tiny triangles carved across the the brow and occassionally
down the side of the face, although they appear on only three
of the four carvings noted above. The faces of all five carvings
are remarkably similar, with narrow almond-shaped eyes, and a
slender nose and slightly open mouth. ...The head tie is a strip
of brightly cloroed cloth which women fashion in a variety of
shapes.,They are visually fascinating, but they also elicit responses
by men conveying their ambivalence about women."
Lot 170 is described in the
catalogue as a
"superb and highly important Songye Community power figure"
from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is 35 inches high
and has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for
The work was collected in situ by Gaston Heenen, Governor
of Katanga, before 1937 and was included in the 1999 exhibition
at the University of Iowa Museum of Art exhibition, "Kilengi:
African Art from the Bareiss Family Collection." It was once
in the collection of Helena Rubenstein.
The catalogue provides the
"In 1937 the City of Antwerp
Olbrechts, the noted African art scholar, to organise a large
scale exhibition of Congolese art. The show Tentoonstelling van
Kongo-Kunst gathered 1525 objects from the Belgian Congo alongside
a selection of contemporary art "inspired by the Congo"
as well as a significant number of historical documents attesting
to Antwerp's rank as 'the first African colonial market'....The
show became not only a monument to Olbrechts but also a landmark
for museum history. While Olbrecht's desire to present the objects
as art and not ethnographical material followed the approach of
other major exhibitions of African art during the 1930s, his scientific
method of classification, which was based on stylistic, rather
than ethnic or geographic differences, represented a significant
departure from earlier attempts at classification. Olbrechts
this new system in both the show and in his brief essay for the
exhibition catalogue, which presents many ideas later elaborated
in his influential Plastiek van Kongo....The Antwerp exhibition
sourced primarily from the large collection of Congolese art in
Antwerp's Vleeschhuis-Museum, home to no fewer than 1600 Congolese
objects which the City had acquired from Henri Pareyn in 1920.
However, the display also borrowed a large number of objects from
private collectors, an important change from the approach of previous
exhibitions. As Olbrechts notes, this allowed to 'bring to light
many completely unknown objects'....Two of these "completely
unknown objects" are today venerated as great masterpieces
of Songye sculpture, and both were lent by Gaston Heenen: the
community power figure now in the Mestach Collection....and the
present lot. Born in 1880, Gaston Heenen joined the Belgian colonial
government in the Congo in 1911, and over the course of the next
20 years established himself as one of the most prominent figures
in the administration of the Congo. Heenen spent most of his time
in the province of Katanga, and from 1922 onwards became perhaps
the dominant figure in the life of the province for almost a decade,
serving as Vice Governor General from May 1928 - September 1931,
and from January 1932 - September 1933. Noted for following liberal
policies which often ran counter to those advocated by the central
administration in Léopoldville, Heenen was interested in
the history and culture of Congo's native tribes, and formed an
extensive collection of Congolese art during his time in Katanga,
as well as writing a history of the Luba people....Roy...notes:
'This is a large and impressive example of a very public nkishi
power figure that once served to protect an entire community.
To the wooden figure have been added elaborate strips of copper
on the face, buttocks and abdomen; several collars of snakeskin
and lizard hide containing magical materials; a strand of costly
blue Dutch beads and iron points, which form the regalia of a
chief and reflect the status of the figure; a large horn container
for magical materials; and a wooden, club-shaped object which
must represent a weapon. The major container for the bashimba
medicine is a large recess carved in the abdomen and sealed with
a copper plate. The figure is in the Kalebwe style, from the central
part of the Songye country. Its size indicates that it was a community
Lot 181 is described as a "fine
Kaguru Throne" by Tanzania. It is 45 5/8 inches high and
has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $37,000.
The catalogue describes "it as rising from four interlinked
legs with openwork design, the circular seat with a rectangular
backrest decorated on the reverse with intricately carved geometric
design in relief, surmounted by a human torso with spherical head
and crested coiffure; metal pegs inserted into base; fine, aged
varied brown patina." It also was exhibited at the University
of Iowa Museum of Art in the 1999 exhibition "Kilengi: African
Art from the Bareiss Family Collection." It was belongedto
Eliot Elisofon, the photographer.
Lot 45 is a fine Dogon
crouching figure with
an encrusted brown patina. It is 6 1/2 inches high and was once
in the collection of John J. Klejman of New York. It has a conservative
estimate of $6,000 to $9,000. It sold for $23,750.
Lot 64 is an impressive and
large and "magnificent"
ancestoral malu board from East Sepik River, Sawos, Papua,New
Guinea. It is6 feet 10 inches high. It has an estimate of $600,000
to $800,000. It sold for $1,314,500.
Lot 69 is a superb Kerewa skull
rack from Goaribari
Island in Papua New Guinea. It is 44 1/4 inches high and was once
in the collection of John J. Klejman of New York. According to
the catalogue entry, "the skulls were outfitted with rattan
and then suspended by the central vertical elements inside the
figure's body," adding that in the early 1900s, agiba
had been observed with between fifty to sity skulls
It has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for
Lot 82 is a superb Massim lime
the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea. It is 12 3/4 inches
high and was once in the collection of Mathias Komor of New York.
The very highly stylized spatula has a modest estimate of $10,000
to $15,000. It sold for $68,500.
Lot 115 is a superb and
interesting staff finial
from the Austral Islands in French Polynesia. It is 18 1/8 inches
high and was formerly in the collections of John J. Klejman of
New York, Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York and the Museum of
Priitive Art in New York. It has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.
It sold for $146,500.