The African and Oceanic Art sale on 24 June at Sothebys
in Paris will open with the vision of two pairs of husband and wife collectors: that of the great contemporary art gallery owners Liliane and Michel Durand-Dessert, and that of Daniel and Carmen Klein, who chose the theme of "Kongo gesture" to assemble an impressive collection of works from this ancient kingdom of Central Africa. Selected works coming from various art lovers are sure to appeal to collectors, starting with a Baulé mask with two faces: an absolute masterpiece from the Pierre and Suzanne Vérité collection, which will be a highlight of the event. Other remarkable pieces adding lustre to the sale mostly with prestigious provenances include a Songye statue, a sublime commemorative portrait of an Akan princess, a Senufo statue from the collection of the artist Jacques Boussard, and the celebrated Attie mask from the Charles Ratton collection.
Liliane and Michel Durand-Dessert Collection
Ten pieces from this phenomenal collection are being dispersed on 17 June. They include an ivory Lega mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (estimate: 250,000-350,000/$267.000374.000). The ten or so examples of this small but iconic corpus stand out for their artistic individuality, varying from gentle, rounded forms to considerable force of expression. The Durand-Dessert mask constitutes the very peak of this style, and also features the rugged veining of almost fossilised ivory: proof of its very great age.
The most impressive Moba altar statues are also the rarest. Liliane and Michel Durand-Dessert were avid collectors of these, seeking singular movement and expression in each of the pieces they chose. A masterpiece in the corpus, this archaic sakab tchitcherik statue (estimate: 150,000-250,000/$160.000-267.000) evokes the magisterial presence of the founder-ancestor emerging from the earth in which the sculpture was set. From this metamorphosis mingling the tribe's history with the natural world, the work has preserved fragments of primitive bark, perceived as the ancestor's deeply-lined skin.
Kongo Gesture and Thinking: Daniel and Carmen Klein collection
The statuary of the Kongo peoples expresses the moral, political and religious codes governing their civilisation through the figures' gestures. Much-published masterpieces or marvellous discoveries, the 23 statues of the Daniel and Carmen Klein collection illustrate the rarest styles in the expansion of the Kongo kingdom, and their superb quality pays tribute to the artists who interpreted Kongo gestures and thinking with such faithfulness. Noteworthy among them are a statue in the very rare Gangala style, considered the apotheosis of Bembe art (100,000-150,000/$107.000160.000) and a large Dondo-Kamba statue from the former Raoul Lehuard collection, stuck with blades, nails and knives (estimate: 150,000-200,000 / $160,000-214,000).
Treasures of the Ivory Coast
Pierre and Suzanne Vérité acquired most of the masterpieces in their personal collection during the Thirties, only unveiling them to the public in 1950. The Baulé double mask (estimate: 2,000,000-3,000,000/$2.140.000-3.200.000 see visual on page 1) was part of this collection, and instantly acquired icon status. It was the star of two African art exhibitions staged in Paris during the Fifties: Chefs-duvre de lAfrique Noire at the Leleu Gallery, and Les arts africains at the Cercle Volney. This masterpiece, published on numerous occasions, reveals the genius of a truly great master of pre-colonial Africa through the intensity of its expression and the quality of its carving. Personifying twinship in one inseparable being, the faces are individualised in terms of colour and beauty, expressing the idea of duality at the heart of Baule thinking. In June 1937, after completing his celebrated article "Primitive Art and Picasso" (Magazine of Art) John Graham provided a fascinating interpretation of the double mask he discovered at the home of his friends Pierre and Suzanne Vérité. In it, he saw the myth of the double that so fascinated the Surrealists, and which inspired Picasso at the same period in his iconic portrait Femme assise (1937, Musée Picasso, Paris).
Roger Bédiat, a wood merchant working in the Attie region in the late Twenties, met Charles Ratton in Paris in 1931. This Attie mask from the Ivory Coast (estimate: 300,000-500,000/ $320.000-535.000) started a series of major transactions between the two men that continued until Bédiat's death in 1958. A masterpiece of a now forgotten tradition, this mask (which later entered the collection of Hubert Goldet) is established as a key work in the understanding of African art through its archaism and the modernity of its pictorial decoration.
In 1950, the artist Jacques Boussard began to build up a large collection of African art, which was dispersed in Paris in 1990. The highest bid of the sale was achieved by this Senufo statue (estimate: 300,000-400,000/$320.000-427.000): a record that celebrated the astonishing formal modernity of ancient arts from the African continent. In an interview, Boussard praised the "visual purity" of this work, together with the "sensuality of its form and line". The slender body is enhanced by remarkably refined modelling and the clean graphics of the body markings.
Ancient arts of the Congo
In the Songye country, Joseph Christiaens, whom Jacques Kerchache had introduced to the art of this region, was the "discoverer" of several major works in the early Seventies. They included this imposing Songye statue (estimate: 350,000-500,000/$374.000-535.000), remarkable for the importance given to the head, the commanding face and the richness of its attributes. It stands out for the extremely rare metal jewellery formed of thick copper leaves, symbolising power. The impressive carving, the rarity of its attributes and the evidence of its very great age make this protective effigy one of the most archaic in the corpus and a masterpiece of Songye statuary.
The royal arts of Cameroon and Ghana
Coming from the famous collection of René and Odette Delenne, this commemorative statue of Fon Tchatchuang, Kingdom of Batoufam (estimate: 500,000700,000/$535.000-750.000) stands out as a major work in African statuary. In the Cameroon Grassland region, monumental statuary was mainly dedicated to the celebration of sovereigns. The eighth fon of the royal dynasty of Batoufam, Tchatchuang reigned in around 1880, and his portrait marked the apogee of the style. As well as the representation of his attributes, the artist's individuality and remarkable talent have made this portrait of the fon Tchatchuang a magnificent expression of royal dignity.
Akan commemorative terracottas are one of the rare artistic traditions of the African continent; the first examples go back over four hundred years. This majestic Akan female head from the Casier collection (estimate: 200,000-300,000/$214.000320.000) stands out from the huge corpus of Akan commemorative heads for its superbly sensitive features and the treatment of its headdress. It seems to represent a high-ranking member of the royal family, probably a Queen Mother a highly privileged status in the matriarchal Akan society.
Sacred arts of Oceania and British Columbia
The monumental Uli statue of an ancestor from the Maurice de Vlaminick collection, then that of André Breton (estimate: 700,000-1,000,000/$750.000-1.070.000) is echoed by the highly sensitive Tlingit Dance Rattle from British Columbia (estimate: 70,000-90,000/$75.000-96.000) acquired by Roberto Matta during the 1940s. This musical instrument was one of the three main insignia used in the Chiefs' Dance, also called the Peace Dance, which staged the meeting of high-ranking figures with supernatural beings.