Christie's Paris announces highlights included in the African and Oceanic Art Sale

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Christie's Paris announces highlights included in the African and Oceanic Art Sale
A magnificent Kanak mask (estimate €100,000-150,000) from New Caledonia.

PARIS.- The Department of African and Oceanic Art will present Shape(s): L'univers des Formes, on December 3, 2020. This exceptional sale celebrates the artistic genius of artists from Africa and Oceania through 67 lots from private collections. Asserting a singular stylistic approach and opting for formal deconstruction, the works of this selection offer a unique visual experience. True masterpieces of execution, they reveal an astonishing reconfiguration of the human figure and the object.

Shape(s): L'univers des Formes offers a dialogue between these works and modern creation, travelling through cultures, eras and disciplines. The lots in this sale, with their strong aesthetic sense and having evolved within prestigious collections, make it possible to decipher the manifest influence of this particular treatment of form among artists and collectors around the world.

One of the highlights of this sale will be the sumptuous Gouro Mask, attributed to the Master of Bouaflé (estimate €500,000-600,000) from Ivory Coast.The only mask of this quality still in private hands, this lot stands out as one of the most elegant and oldest of the ten creations credited to the Master of Bouaflé. The very particular dynamic profile and the crescent-shaped slit eyes are some of the distinctive features of his works, bearing witness to his virtuosity in the sublimation of the Gouro beauty canons.

Often compared to Baule or Gouro masks because of the tapering of the faces and the extreme schematization of the features, Modigliani's lithic heads or his numerous drawings of caryatids, reveal his fascination for classical African sculptural art.

Among the highlights of this sale, the Hemba, Singiti statue (estimate €180,000-250,000) from the Democratic Republic of Congo particularly stands out. With its exceptional workmanship and eurythmic forms, this statue stands out as an icon of Hemba art. The extreme meticulousness of the artist in the elaborate and majestic headdress of this singiti, an effigy of a male ancestor, distinguishes this statue with its cubist vocabulary from the rest of Hemba's artistic production.

A triangular face from the forehead to the ears, a rectangular mouth in relief, massive shoulders, a cylindrical neck and beveled hands: this geometrical ensemble confers a singular dynamism to this creation. A new and truly rediscovered work, this effigy from the famous merchant Jacques Kerchache, which has been in Arman's collection for nearly 50 years, is now back on the art market.

A true jewel of ornamentation, the Kongo-Yombe motherhood, Phemba (estimate €350,000-500,000) depicts a universal iconography, transcending borders and cultures. This mother figure, Phemba, sits enthroned in majesty, crowned with a miter and seating cross-legged, her child lying on her lap. Her head carriage, imperious, reinforces the expression that radiates from this work, embodying the power and the protective figure of the lineage: sometimes gentle and dignified, through the attentive gestures supporting the child and her voluptuous curves, sometimes aggressive, through her half-open mouth with exposed teeth and her massive arms.

Enhanced by a honey-brown patina that attests to its great seniority, this motherhood appeared for the first time at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris in 1967. This treasure, preciously preserved by Arman since, did not stop travelling the world in order to take part in the greatest exhibitions - it returns to Paris today, almost unpublished, among the ten lots from the artist's collection present in the sale. Its superb workmanship and rich ornamentation make it one of the most beautiful examples still in private hands.

One of the gems in this sale is a subtle Kota Janus reliquary figure, Mbulu Ngulu (estimate €180,000-250,000) from Gabon. A long-standing object of fascination, the recurring stylization of the human face in Kota art is taken to its extreme. These impressive sculptures were precisely at the heart of the modern art dialogue that took place not only in Paris, but also in Berlin and New York, ushering in a new era in modern sculpture and painting. Like their Cubist peers, the artists behind these reliquary figures deconstructed the three-dimensional human face and body into an inventive two-dimensional representation.

The two egg-shaped faces are covered with thin strips of copper and brass, requiring the greatest skill of the artist. This two-faced reliquary figure has had the honor of passing through the hands of illustrious African art enthusiasts: the fascinating Helena Rubinstein, New York collectors and dealers Gaston de Havenon and Merton D. Simpson or, up until recently, the artist Arman. The dispersal of Helena Rubinstein's famous collection at auction in 1966 marked a historic moment for the recognition of the African and Oceanian art market and for the recognition of Helena Rubinstein's refined taste.

Collectors will be able to discover a magnificent Kanak mask (estimate €100,000-150,000) from New Caledonia. Coming from a princely collection, this mask is remarkable for its extraordinary antiquity: it has been documented since its acquisition in 1850, placing it among the first Kanak masks to be catalogued. It is even more imposing due to the force of expression emanating from its pronounced features, its compact volume and the freshness of its appearance due to the thick layer of black and red pigments covering its almost petrified surface.

This creation can be traced in the handwritten list of objects acquired by exchange from Philippe Doyne Vigors, who embarked from July 13 to November 11, 1850 on the HMS Havannah for an expedition that took him to New Zealand, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and Fiji. His logbook is full of detailed descriptions and sketches, painting the places he visited and the people he met.

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