Baga Headdress Leads Bonhams $1.4 Million
African And Oceanic Art Auction

14 Nov 2013, African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art
African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art

Baga Headdress Leads Bonhams $1.4 Million
African And Oceanic Art Auction

14 Nov 2013, African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art

NEW YORK—Bonhams New York is pleased to announce that the auction of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art on November 14 achieved more than $1.4 million. Leading the auction was a Baga headdress from the Guinea Coast of Africa, representing a d'mba, or "idea" of a beautiful mother, that was purchased by an important European dealer for $305,000. This auction room was packed with domestic and international collectors and dealers in town for the many Tribal Art events taking place in New York.

African artworks that stood out in the sale, in addition to the Baga headdress, included a Bamana or Mandinka forehead mask from Mali that sold for $23,750, soaring past a pre-sale estimate of $4,000-6,000, and two wooden Luba female figures from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that brought $22,500 and $20,000, respectively. Luba artists have historically celebrated and honored the female figure in their art.

A very successful category in the auction that included many top-selling lots was Oceanic Art. Among the highest-selling of Oceanic works was an ironwood u'u (warrior's club) from the Marquesas Islands that achieved $93,750, surpassing a pre-sale estimate of $40,000-60,000. The u'u club was a Marquesan warrior's most prized possession during times of warfare in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The clubs served as both a weapon in close combat and as a mark of high status within society.

Another remarkable Oceanic work of note was a rare bird-shaped pestle pommel from the Central Highlands of Papua, New Guinea, made between circa 4000-1000 BC, that achieved $27,500, exceeding an estimate of $15,000-20,000. The bird, that was the subject of fierce bidding by two tenured Oceanic art collectors, was confirmed by petrographic study as one of the earliest works of Oceanic art ever to come to auction.

Also from Papua, New Guinea, was a large, wooden Sawos male ancestral figure from the East Sepik Province of the Middle Sepik River that sold for $81,250, ahead of a $40,000-60,000 estimate, and a Mangan mask from the Lower Sepik River, that brought $32,500, past a $10,000-15,000 estimate. Additional notable Oceanic works - that shot past their $12,000-18,000 estimates - included a rare pahu heiau or patu hula from the Hawaiian Islands that sold for $68,750, and a rare fish shaped pectoral from Easter Island that achieved $43,750.

Pre-Columbian artworks in the auction also performed well with brisk bidding both inside the auction room and on the telephones. A monumental, earthenware Colima seated dog from the Protoclassic period, circa 100 BC-AD 250, appealed to numerous bidders, achieving $37,500, while a large Nayarit standing male figure of the same period brought an impressive $23,750.

The sale also featured the Evan M. Maurer Headrest Collection, which included a variety of exceptional African headrests, carefully assembled by Maurer, the current Director Emeritus of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Notable examples included a rare, figural wood Twa headrest of Rwanda/Burundi that brought $5,000; a wood, Yaka headrest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that brought $2,000, past an estimate of $1,200-1,800; and two wooden Kuba headrests from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that exceeded their pre-sale estimates, bringing $2,125 and $2,000, respectively.

According to Bonhams Director of African, Oceanic & Pre-Colombian Art, Fredric Backlar, 30 percent of this sale's buyers were first-time buyers, indicating the continued growing demand for tribal art; especially Oceanic art, for which there was brisk competition.

He commented, "This sale's strong results indicate that the middle market for tribal art, which has suffered in recent years, is finally back."

Bonhams next sale of Oceanic Art will take place in San Francisco in early February. Bonhams next sale of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art will take place in New York in mid-May of 2014. To view the full auction and to purchase a catalog, please visit in the weeks preceding the sale.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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