L: Auction sale catalogue; C: Statuette Punu Loumbo; R: Masque Grebo Krou.
(Photos: Boris Veignant)
African Mask Takes Record $7.5M at Auction
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: June 18, 2006
Filed at 9:19 p.m. ET
PARIS (AP) -- A celebrated 19th century mask by the West African Fang tribe fetched more than $7.5 million at auction in Paris, a record for a work of primitive art, organizers said Sunday.
The mask, which is said to have inspired artist Pablo Picasso, brought in four times its estimated price of $1.9 million on Saturday, organizers of the sale at the Drouot auction house said. The buyer's identity was not disclosed.
The mask was part of one of France's premier private collections of primitive art, which was on the block at Drouot this weekend. Started by Pierre Vérité and his son Claude in the 1920s, the collection features works mostly from France's former colonies in West and Central Africa.
Though it was kept out of public view for most of the 20th century, the collection made a big impression on celebrated artists such as Picasso, Henri Matisse and surrealist Andre Breton, who saw it in the 1930s.
More than 500 pieces were up for auction and were estimated to bring in between $19 million and $25 million -- though prices appeared to be rising far beyond those expectations.
''Prices are soaring in this sale, which is perhaps the last of this importance,'' she said. ''As this is a historic collection, and many of the objects have almost never been displayed, we're seeing a lot of competition.''
On the Market: Tribal Art in Paris
By Amy Page
PARIS, May 22, 2006—June is a very important month in Paris for tribal art. The central event is the long-awaited opening of the Musée de Quai Branly on June 24, following a series of private openings.
The museum, which has been designed by Jean Nouvel and resembles a giant footbridge surrounded by a garden, will house arts of the indigenous peoples of Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas. It is intended to further Paris' claim of being the center of the tribal art world, outshining Brussels and New York.
Surrounding this major event will be a series of auctions and gallery exhibitions. The major auction is the collection of Pierre and Claude Vérité being sold at L'Hotel Drouot on June 17 and 18. The two-day auction is organized by primitive-art experts Guy Loudmer, Alain de Monbrison and Pierre Amrouche."Pierre Vérité bought at the very beginning of interest in tribal art," said Monbrison. "At the time Pierre started buying, just after World War I, African art was sold by paintings dealers, such as Paul Guillaume. It was not until the 1930s that a few dealers began to specialize in tribal art. The Vérité collection is the only one from the early days that has survived more or less intact," he says.
In the early 1930s, Pierre Vérité, who was an artist, lived in the artist colony known as "La Ruche" (the Hive) and opened his first gallery in primitive art. In 1937, he opened the Galerie Carrefour on the Boulevard Raspail, which was a hangout for artists and collectors such as Picasso, Helena Rubenstein, Nancy Cunard and Andre Breton.
In the 1940s, Pierre's son Claude became increasingly involved in the gallery. He went on African expeditions, collecting objects and information, and took photographs to document his travels. Later on, the gallery numbered important American collectors, such as artist John Graham and actors Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price and Anthony Quinn among its clients. The collection stops around 1960.
"Many of the pieces in the collection are unknown," said Amrouche, "and have never been exhibited. They are all very old and have great patina that has never been touched. Seeing them for the first time was like opening Ali Baba’s cave."
The Vérité collection is comprised of 520 pieces and is expected to bring $15-20 million.
It is very broad in scope, encompassing virtually every African culture and also some Oceanic objects. Eclectic as it is, the collection is especially strong in material from Gabon and West African cultures, such as the Senufo, Baule and Bembe.
Many of the pieces are well known, having been featured in major publications. The star piece is a Fang Ngil mask from Gabon, considered by many to be the finest of its kind, which is expected to bring around $1.5 million.
The rare, large mask, which is made of wood covered with a layer of kaolin, has been published and exhibited many times, including at the important "Primitivism and Twentieth-Century Art" show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1984. Another star is a rare Congo reliquary figure of a man with a child from Gabon (est: $300-350,000).
The estimates for the pieces are "strong and realistic" says Amrouche, "reflecting the strength of the market."
All images courtesy Vérité Collection
All images courtesy Vérité CollectionMore info:
La Collection Vérité,
Détours des Mondes, 5 juin, 2006
Collection restée assez mystérieuse, sa vente suscite un grand intérêt dans le milieu des collectionneurs. Elle est déjà annoncée comme vente «du siècle» (en référence au XXe !) car il n'y a jamais eu de vente de cette importance en «Arts Primitifs», et «importance» s'entendant en estimation chiffrée : 15 à 20 millions [read on...]
Marché de l'Art: Plus de 500 œuvres d’art africain mises aux enchères, à Paris
By Dominique Raizon, 16/06/2006
L'entière «Vérité»:Arts premiers. Deux jours d'exposition précèdent la prestigieuse vente de la collection à Drouot.
By Henri-François DEBAILLEUX, QUOTIDIEN : jeudi 15 juin 2006
Le Nouvel Observateur:
Arts premiers: l'heure des Vérité à Drouot
By Thibault Leroux, AP | 15.06.06 | 18:45
Art tribal, le bal du siècle à Paris
by Béatrice de Rochebouët, 09 juin 2006
Art sales: great collectors unmasked
Will Bennett looks forward to the long-awaited auction of one of greatest tribal art collections (Filed: 23/05/2006)