With a final result of €11.1 million, Sotheby's auction of African and Oceanic art achieved the second highest total in this field in France since the market opened. The highest bid went to the Masque-double, which sold for €5,411,000 (estimate €2-3 million), establishing a world record for a Baulé piece and the second highest price for any African mask. A majestic female head, probably of a Queen Mother, from the Casier collection, reached a final price of €855,000, a world record for an Akan work. The Durand-Dessert collection achieved great successes, with an ancient Moba sculpture from Togo selling for €243,000 and a Lega ivory mask from the Democratic Republic of Congo selling for €291,000.
The distinctive vision of two collecting couples is reflected in the lots to be sold in our forthcoming sale of African and Oceanic Art. Liliane and Michel Durand-Dessert, outstanding figures in the world of Contemporary art, demonstrated an aesthetic preference for works shaped by their environment, while Daniel and Carmen Klein assembled the most impressive collection of works from the former royal kingdoms of Central Africa, based on the theme of the “Kongo gesture”. Other works, originating from various collectors, explore three major themes. The confrontation between strength and sensitivity is illustrated by a Songye figure, whose power is accentuated by a metallic “patchwork” covering its face. This piece contrasts with the sublime commemorative portrait of an Akan princess of the 17th century, a masterpiece of its corpus. The theme of old and contemporary masters is illustrated by the most sensitive of the masks attributed to the “Master of Bouaflé”, and by a major work of the Kenyan ceramist, Magdalene Odundo. Finally, the formal affinities between African and Modern art are reflected in several masterpieces, such as a Senufo figure from the collection of the artist Jacques Boussard and the famous Attié mask, from the collections of Charles Ratton and subsequently Hubert Goldet, with its strikingly abstract linear and polychrome decoration.
Two Faces, One Icon
Pierre and Suzanne Vérité opened the “Arnod, Art Nègre” gallery in rue Huyghens, Montparnasse, in 1934. The address, suggested by their friend and neighbour, the American artist John Graham, is significant. In 1916, the Lyre and Palette gallery, located in the same street, hosted the first Parisian exhibition combining African and Modern art, with the participation of Picasso and Modigliani, among others. The Vérités were hosts to the Parisian avant-garde, including Éluard, Breton, and Tzara, as well as personalities such as Helena Rubinstein and James John Sweeney, who they met thanks to Graham. It was during this period that Pierre and Suzanne Vérité acquired most of their masterpieces, unveiled on the occasion of an exhibition at the Cercle Volney. Two masks immediately gained iconic status: the Fang Ngil mask and a double-faced Baule mask, a masterpiece of one of the smallest and most emblematic corpuses, which reveals the genius of an outstanding master of pre-colonial Africa through the restrained intensity of its expression and the dazzling quality of its sculpture and its subtle varied patina. Although the faces seem to blend into one indissociable being, they are nevertheless individualized by their distinct colour and beauty, brilliantly expressing the notion of duality that lies at the heart of Baule thinking. In 1937, Picasso captured this same spirit in his dual portrait of Dora Maar and Nusch Éluard.