Friday 14 December 2012

At over €2.6m, is this the most expensive African art piece at an auction?

Estimated for €2,000,000 - €3,000,000, the piece, described as a reliquary figure Nkundu 254 cm. (100 in) from Democratic Republic of Congo was sold at Christie’s Paris sales this week for €2,697,000.

Observers noted it was the world’s best result for an African art piece in 2012. Christie disclosed “This masterpiece of Central African art formed one of the key sculptures from the famous collection of the Belgian painter Jean Willy Mestach for nearly 60 years.”

At the sales, which featured about 20 other works of African origin, a total of €6m ($7,8m) was realized. Among the pieces sold were A Fang head, from the Pierre Berès collection, formerly owned by Charles Ratton and later by Félix Fénéon, fetched €385,000.

“The department is very pleased with the auction’s result, notably with the presence of numerous international collectors, both personal and virtual. We are particularly proud of the result obtained by the Nkundu reliquary” Susan Kloman, International Head of Christie’s African and Oceanian art department said.
reliquary figure Nkundu 254 cm. (100 in)

Provenance for Nkundu
The sarcophagus of the Mestach collection was acquired in a Brussels antique shop, after the 1940-45 war. It is very likely that this antiquarian is G. Dehondt. The latter sold to the Musée de l'Homme in Paris the Nkundu sarcophagus efomba, now in the Musée du Quai Branly under reference number 73.1992 .0.1. 

In this connection, Miss Huguette Van Geluwe from the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren wrote to Mrs Delange, in a letter from November 19th 1970, that the sarcophagus came from this well-known antique dealer and has been photographed by R.F. Boelaert in 1940. She added that two other sarcophagi that are in the Tervuren Museum were photographed before 1896 and published in the Annals of the Tervuren Museum.(12) These anthropomorphic sarcophagi, acquired by the Royal Museum for Central Africa, were collected in the late 19th century, presented during the Brussels-Tervuren exhibition of 1897 and offered to the Museum in 1893 after being collected by C. Lemaire in 1891.(13) The Willy Mestach sarcophagus is stylistically and culturally related to this first generation of sculptures, especially the anthropomorphic sarcophagus benchmarked RMCA 42798. The latter, collected by Mr Stasse and offered to the museum by his wife in 1909, presents this morphological correspondence and analog designs (dark dye flecked with white dots). The comparison underlines how the Mestach sarcophagus is by far the most remarkable, almost unique, and of a rare plastic quality. It should be dated between 1890 and 1909.
  (c/o Christie’s African and Oceanian art department.) 

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