A packed saleroom at the Galerie Charpentier for the sale of African & Oceanic Art witnessed fierce competition between collectors (mainly from Europe or America) present at the auction or bidding by telephone. The sale ultimately brought nearly 12m, one of the highest ever totals in the field.
'What joy for this century to have brought to light the splendours of Ancient African sculpture, whose reign has only just begun' wrote Paul Guillaume in 1920, in the third issue of Action: Cahier de Philosophie et dArt. Guillaume was one of the first to anticipate the tremendous upsurge in interest for the arts of Africa and Oceania in the 20th century, and the recognition their masterpieces would enjoy today, now considered as among the world's greatest historic art treasures.
The sale's top price will remain in the annals of the history of the African Art market: 5.4m ($7.1m) for the Luba caryatid stool of the Master of the Buli. The staggering price for this caryatid stool reflects the tremendous esteem in which the the greatest African artists are held, with the Master of the Buli one of the chief among them. The last time a work by the Master appeared at auction was at Sothebys
London in 1979; it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for for, 240,000 £, an international record for a work of African art at the time.
The stool sold in Paris was acquired by Harry Bombeeck in 1896, and brought back to Belgium in 1899. It is considered one of the most towering achievements of the Master of the Buli, due to its exquisite proportions and carving, especially to the majestic head, and by the care lavished on the details of the forward-leaning torso; the inclined, open palms; the four fingers posed delicately on the seat; and the outspread thumb touching the hair. It is probably the finest stool from the Master's entire known body of work.
The sale opened with a New York Collection that totalled 3.3m ($4.3m), to be 81.6% sold by lot and 92% by value. The sale of this ensemble in Paris concluded a century-old story uniting a handful of men on either side of the Atlantic, for whom securing recognition for African Art was a lifelong goal.
Among the masterpieces in the collection was the Fang head which Paul Guillaume lent to the MoMA for the exhibition of African Negro Art in 1935. The Paul Guillaume Fang Head duly posted the collection's highest price of 912,750 ($1.2m).
Next, on 198,750 ($$260.800), came a rare, powerful, 11th/12th century Dogon Djennenke torso from Mali one of a small group of archaic ancestor figures with 'arms raised in communion with the supreme being' (Hélène Leloup, 1994).
The 40-lot Lionel Sergent Collection yielded 819,675 ($10.6m) to be 81.6% sold by volume and 94.9% by value a fitting tribute to the eye of this passionate enthusiast for the art and culture of the peoples he encountered on a daily basis during his 28 years in West Africa. Collectors were especially quick to assess the importance of his Senufo figure from Mali, which almost trebled its high estimate on 294,750 ($386.800).