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Christie's Paris announces African and Oceanic Art Sale to be held 19 June 2013
The sale is led by an iconic Baga Serpent from the Republic of Guinea, which was collected in-situ by Helene and Henri Kamer in 1957, (estimate: €800,000-1,200,000). Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2013.

PARIS.- The African and Oceanic Art department presents a sale rich in collections and works of art fresh to the market in one of the most important sales of African and Oceanic Art to come to market in several seasons The June 19th in Paris is composed of 117 lots estimated between 3,7 and 5,9 million euros. Collectors will rediscover masterpieces from the Collection of Celeste and Armand Bartos as we present twenty extraordinary sculptures from the collection. Highlights are led by an iconic Baga Serpent from the Republic of Guinea, which was collected in-situ by Helene and Henri Kamer in 1957, (estimate: €800,000-1,200,000) and an exquisite and historic Fang Head, from Gabon, formerly in the collection of Charles Ratton (estimate: €300,000-500,000) – which have quietly lived in a major collection of 20th Century Art next to Brancusi, Matisse, Miro, Rothko and Warhol for over 50 years in New York. The astounding Masterpieces of New Guinea from The Jolika Collection at The Fine Arts Museums Of San Francisco will also allow discovery of works of art rarely seen on the market. This highly curated selection of fifteen works of art represents the wide, sophisticated geographic and stylistic spectrum of New Guinea artistic production.

Celeste and Armand Bartos were passionate collectors and true patrons of the arts, with interests that spanned painting, sculpture, cinema, design, architecture, and new media. The diversity and scope of their patronage is emblematic of the curiosity and optimistic engagement the Bartoses had with their world. Through their philanthropy and Mr Bartos’s architectural works, they have left an indelible mark on the international cultural landscape.

Among the rare breed of the most sophisticated collectors of art – Celeste and Armand Bartos were a couple who built a collection with a true appreciation for art, artists, aesthetics, affinities and art history. They clearly understood the relevance of African art as the genesis of Modern Art. The first generation of African art collectors lived in both Europe and America and are names we all know: Picasso, Matisse, Ernst, Andre Breton, Helena Rubinstein and Alfred Stieglitz, for example. A second generation emerged after the Second World War and included, Pierre Matisse, John and Domique De Menil, and, perhaps most famously, Nelson Rockefeller, whose collection of African and Oceanic Art would later form the core of the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

He was an enlightened and philanthropic collector, like Celeste and Armand Bartos. At the same time, Rockefeller, the Menils and many others were acquiring African art in New York from dealers such as John J. Klejman and Hélène and Henri Kamer, as did Celeste and Armand Bartos.

The superb painterly surface of the Baga snake is enhanced with black and white pigments forming triangular geometric patterns and further reinforces the form's rhythm. The strong plasticity of this Baga snake places it among the major work of monumental African statuary, which is extremely rare. Comparable snakes are in prestigious collections: the one belonging to the Musée du Quai Branly, now exhibited in the Pavillon des Sessions (Louvre, Paris), another one is in the Menil Collection in Houston, another at the Metropolitan Museum of New York formerly in the Rockefeller collection. Associated with the rainbow, considered the source of the rivers and a marker of the end of the rains, among the Baga, the snake evokes the idea of life and death, the beginning and the end (estimate: 800,000-1,200,000, illustrated above).

The Jolika Collection represents one of the single greatest collecting achievements in the art world, brilliantly cultivated over four decades by Marcia and John Friede. It is a unique collection, which comprises over 300 works, and is acknowledged to be one of the most important art museum collections of New Guinea works of art with respect to both quality and depth. The Jolika Collection, named for the first letters of John and Marcia Friede's three children (John, Lisa and Karen), was documented in a dedicated two-volume book and has been on view to the public in a breath-taking display since 2005 at the deYoung Museum of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in a superbly appointed museum space. Proceeds from the sale will benefit the department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the Fine Arts Museums acquisition fund.

“It is an amazing opportunity for New guinea works of such quality to come to market. For some of the rarest examples, we will not see works like this available again for another generation, if ever” stated Susan Kloman, International director of the department.

The selection is led by a powerful and extremely rare ceremonial house finial figure carved by the Biwat (Mundugamor) people of the middle Sepik river Yuat River region. The Biwat people are celebrated for the virtuosity of their carvings from the famous flute-stopper figures to the A monumental ancestor figures such as the iconic example from the Beyeler Collection in Basel. The Jolika Biwat figure is exceedingly rare as one of only four known examples of this quality – one in the Cambridge Museum of Art and Archaeology, another in the Barbier-Mueller Collection and a third in the Australian Museum, Sydney. These roof sculptures, depicting a crouching male figure, represent the mythical hero Bilishoi who had taken refuge on the rooftop of a house.

The Jolika figure is an exceptional example, with its captivating expression and fascinating combination of a man/insect, the strong positive and negative volumes are punctuated by the point-counterpoint of the M-shaped legs and W-shaped arms. Particularly notable is the vitality of the strength of the remaining pigment which highlights the painterly surface. The figure would have sat near the top the men’s ceremonial house, shaded by a palm-spathe awning. This figure entered the Friede Collection after having been housed for years at the Melbourne Savage Club, a gentleman’s club named for the 18th century poet Richard Savage; the name also served as a double-entendre for the Bohemian spirit of the club’s founders.

A fine selection of fourteen African works of art will be offered by the Art Institute led by an exquisite Baga D’mba headdress (estimate: €400,000-800,000) formerly in the collection of legendary Chicago maven, Muriel Kallis Newman, whose famous collection of Abstract Expressionist art is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like the Bartoses, Newman was a very original art collector and her ‘Nimba’ lived next to paintings by Jackson Pollack and Kenneth Noland for over 40 years. The Baga D’mba headdress is an iconic form in African art representing a female entity, an idea of the ideal. This large, voluptuous form is perhaps most famous for a related D’mba owned by Pablo Picasso, believed to have been the formal inspiration for his sculptural and painted portrayals of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter.

With the collector’s eye for surface and ornament, this collection shares a dazzling continuity throughout the superb selection of masks and sculptures. This characteristic is most spectacularly featured by the important Royal Baham, Cameroon, Commemorative Figurative Throne, created for King (Fon) Kamwa Mars, circa 1930’s (estimate: €250,000-350,000), after his installation as King in 1928. What is extraordinary in addition to the scale and theatricality of the work itself, is that the names of both the carver and bead-worker are known: Kwam and Kandep, respectively. Thrones associated with important figures are known from both Bamum and Bekom No ruler could actually sit on this ceremonial throne from Baham. It was preserved in the royal treasury and shown only at ceremonial and representational events. Sometimes combined with other royal insignia, it represented the ruler’s position in the society.

The upcoming African and Oceanic Art sale in Paris will also present a selection of African sculptures from American singing legend, Andy Williams. In the spirit of the enlightened collector, Williams’s collecting interests were far-reaching. The selection will be led by an important and rare Igbo couple from Nigeria created for a shrine and called Ugonachomma (estimate: €80,000-120,000). Representations of couples as well as life size sculptures are extremely rare in African art. The gesture of these two figures is particularly tender and naturalistic a quality rarely seen in African art. Another highlight of the collection is embodied by a fine Kota Reliquary from the former collections of Russell B. Aitken and Frank Crowninshield. Crowninshield was a great art collector and taste-maker of the 1930's and the creator of Vanity Fair magazine. Highlights of the Andy Williams African Art will be on view in New York in May together with his important collection of Post-War and Contemporary Art to be offered in New York (May 15th & 16th).

This Dogon female figure, of exceptionally tall, elongated proportions was once in the sculptor, Jacob Epstein’s, celebrated collection of African and Oceanic art in London. It was also likely sketched by Henry Moore around 1930 when it was in the hands of the gallerist Sidney Burney, a central figure of the British art world in the 1920’s and 30’s. Moore and Epstein were both profoundly inspired by the art of Africa and Oceania. With a long publication and exhibition history, the figure has the distinction of having been shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in two landmark shows featuring African art, once in 1935 (African Negro Art) and again in 1984 (‘Primitivism’ and 20th Century Art), (estimate: €300,000-500,000).

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