Individual Genius Meets Tradition in African and Oceanic Art

Several works of African and Oceanic Art including sculpted masks, stools, headdresses and effigies
Launch Slideshow

Sotheby’s upcoming sale of African and Oceanic Art on 12 December features works from a number of established collections. Each work has been carefully selected to celebrate the infinite richness of styles and the artistic genius of the anonymous sculptors from these regions that so deeply influenced 20th century artists. From Papua New Guinea to Polynesia, from Côte d’Ivoire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the artworks in this group show the dialogue between individual genius and the influence of traditional canons. Click the image above to view the slideshow.

Individual Genius Meets Tradition in African and Oceanic Art

  • Luba Shankadi Neckrest, by the The Master of The Cascade Coiffure, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Estimate upon request.
    This masterpiece from the Frum collection is the magnum opus of the Master of the Cascade Coiffures. In addition to its rhythmic sophistication and its sculptural genius, the deeply nuanced patina attests to its prolonged use and to the caring attention given to it. Both the rare iconography, revealing the importance of its owner, as well as its emblematic provenance in the history of Western collections confirm the pre-eminence of this work.
  • Kota Reliquary Figure, Gabon. Estimate €150,000–250,000
    Drawing from Kota traditions and from aesthetic characteristics specific to the Ndasa style, in this piece the artist creates an impression that combines force and majesty. The thick base, with its diamond-shaped opening, heightens the visual impact of the head, and is evidence, through its beautiful dark patina, also visible on the back of the piece, of its great age.
  • Bamana Headdress, Ciwara, Mali. Estimate €300,000–400,000
    This striking masterpiece transcends all other examples within the corpus. Displaying unique form, it is distinguished as one of the finest works within all Bamana art.
  • Kwele Altar, Gabon. Estimate €250 000–350 000
    Four-legged stools with an ancestral figure above are common to the majority of ethnic groups living along the Congo River but they are exceptionally rare, almost unknown, among the Kwele of eastern Gabon. Indeed only two examples of this corpus are known today: one formerly in the Marc Couillard collection (Sotheby's, Paris, June 17, 2009, No. 87) and the other presented here.
  • Bamana Mask, Mali. Estimate €250,000–350,000
    Unveiled during the Ntomo - the second Bamana initiatory society - this mask symbolises the female Nyeleni ideal that every boy aspires to after his initiation. The deep patina from use finds an echo in the formal tension between the two human faces, the forcefulness of the facial features and the sensitivity of the outlines, making it a masterpiece within this style.
  • Fang Figure, Gabon. Estimate €600,000–800,000
    This figure is a testament to the sculptural characteristics that preside over both the enhancement of symbolically important body parts, and the formulation of space. The artist has favoured the frontal view of the work, highlighting the significance given to the head in the Fang thought system as a sign of vitality and social power, to the votive gesture, paying tribute to the spirits of the dead, and to the prominent navel - evoking the ties that bind humans together.
  • Edo bronze Plaque, Kingdom of Benin, Nigeria. Estimate €120,000–180,000
    The great classicism of the subject matter of this plaque is compounded by the high level of technical accomplishment. The forcefulness of the volumes projected in high relief is further enhanced in the concentration of finely drawn motifs, which adorn the figure as well as the background of the plaque. Both in its iconography and in its formal qualities this plaque is testament to the great historical art of the Kingdom of Benin.
  • Kuyu Figure, Republic of Congo. Estimate €150,000–250,000
    Acquired prior to 1938 by Colonial Administrator Aristide Courtois, much like the majority of the historical Kuyu statuary corpus, this male figure stands out as a canon of this style, a style which developed in the north of the Republic of the Congo, along the Kouyou river. The work of Kuyu sculptors can be identified from an almost systematic association of the human figure with an animal figure. This display of animal power is compounded by the ideal of Kuyu beauty, which is masterfully conveyed in the face of the statue with its full lips, half-closed eyes and short nose.
  • Rei miro pectoral, Easter Island, Polynesia. Estimate €300,000–400,000
    The pared-down beauty of this piece is sublimated by the quality of the wood and its patina. Its scale and proportions place it at the heart of the very narrow corpus comprising pectorals of this type, all true masterpieces of Polynesian art. Finally the softening of the reliefs and the deep abrasion marks that dent the outer edge of the perforated dimples where the suspension cord would have been threaded, are a testament to the long use of this insignia, reserved for the highest aristocracy on Easter Island.
  • Fang Figure, Gabon, Estimate €150,000–250,000
    This figure is an archaic example of southern Fang statuary. Designed to symbolically evoke ancestors, probably a lineage chief in this example, the purpose of this eyema byeri effigy was to protect the relics of the eminent dead of the clan. In the present work, the breadth of the votive gesture holding in its hands a double cup with offerings, accentuates the importance of this tribute to the ancestral spirits.
  • Kota Obamba Reliquary Figure by The Master of Sébé, Gabon, Estimate €700,000–1,000,000
    The corpus created by the Sébé Valley Master is not only one of the rarest within African art, but also one of the most archaic. A brilliant testament to the talent of this artist, the reliquary figure of the Frum Collection stands out as one of the most accomplished sculptures for the elegant balance struck between the voluptuous outlines of the face and the bi-dimensionality of the slender rhombus of the lower part.
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