Over the weekend, Sotheby’s held a very strong sale of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art that brought in $10.5 million. According to Sotheby’s, “The morning single-owner sale of The Sculptor’s Eye: African and Oceanic Art from the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation surpassed the high estimate to bring $4,888,316 (est. $3/4.4 million). The afternoon various owners sale, which also included Pre-Columbian Art, exceeded the low estimate to achieve $5,693,813 (est. $4.3/6.4 million).”
Assembled from the 1930s through the 1960s, the collection of American sculptor Chaim Gross and his wife Renee was among the earliest collections of African art in the United States, and it has remained intact and largely unchanged since that time. Six bidders competed for the sale’s star work, a Magnificent, Rare and Highly Important Ngbaka Statue Representing the Mythical Ancestor Sètò from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which doubled the high estimate to bring a world record price of $1,258,500 (lot 67, est. $400/600,000). The figure, which has been widely published and acclaimed as the best-known example of its kind, was purchased by Gross directly from legendary collector Frank Crowninshield and first exhibited in the 1937 Brooklyn Museum Exhibition African Negro Art from the Collection of Frank Crowninshield.
A Superb, Extremely Rare and Important Senufo Kneeling Female Figure from the Ivory Coast – possibly the only example of this unique iconography – soared to $758,500 after competition from three telephone bidders (lot 25, est. $250/350,000) and a Magnificent Soninke Hermaphrodite Figure from Mali dating to the 12th to 15th Centuries achieved $530,500 (lot 9, est. $400/600,000), a record for a Soninke figure at auction. Strong prices were also seen for two Benin bronze plaques on offer, which both surpassed pre-sale estimates to bring $458,500 and $278,500 (lot 34, est. $200/300,000; lot 40 est. $150/250,000).
The afternoon session comprised a particularly strong offering of Oeanic art, led by a Magnificent, Extremely Rare and Important Figure of the God IRIWÁKE, from Papua New Guinea, which sold to a bidder in the room for $1,202,500 (lot 146, est. in excess of $1 million), establishing a record for sculpture from the Papuan Gulf region. The figure – one of only two known to exist – boasts a distinguished provenance, previously in the collection of Loed van Bussel and John Friede, and is one of the most famous works of art from the Papuan Gulf region. A Magnificent Torres Strait Drum carved from a single piece of wood in the shape of a whale shark surpassed its presale estimate to achieve $698,500 (lot 149, est. $300/500,000). Also commanding a strong price was a Superb Iatmul, Parambei Subgroup, Janiform Spirit Figure House Post from Papua New Guinea, which jumped past its estimate to sell for $266,500 (lot 152, est. $100/150,000).
Top prices for African art were achieved by A Superb, Rare and Highly Important Fang-Betsi Reliquary Head from Gabon, which commanded $506,500 against an estimate of $200/300,000 (lot 170) and was purchased by an American institution. A Superb Tsonga of Nguni Snuff Tobacco Container from South Africa estimated at $6/9,000 leapt to $43,750, almost five times its high estimate (lot 172).
The Pre-Columbian offerings today were highlighted by an Important Nayarit Seated Couple in the Ixtlán del Rio Polychrome Style from the Protoclassic period, ca. 100 BC-AD 250, which sold for $314,500 (lot 116, est. $250/350,000), establishing a record price for a large-scale West Mexican couple. An incredibly Rare Veracruz Head with Cutaway Masks from the Veracruz/Possibly Puebla Region, ca. AD 700-1200 more than quadrupled its presale estimate to sell for $134,500 (lot 128, est. $20/30,000) and a vibrant green Teotihuacan Tecali Mask from the classic period, ca. AD 450-650 totaled $104,500 (lot 126, est. $70/90,000).