Form virtually unknown in both private and museum collections
NEW YORK — An extremely rare Chokwe architectural female figure from Angola dating to the early 20th century will lead Bonhams African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art auction on May 15 at the Madison Avenue salesroom (est. $90,000-120,000). Field-collected by Jacques Kerchache, the female figure, covered in ritualistic scarring, and has been widely published and featured in notable museum exhibitions. The well-sculpted head utilises black surfaces on the overall background of red to emphasise several important elements: the striped headdress, long eyebrows, coffee-bean eyes, and widened mouth, all of which has been enhanced with a white pigmentation, a symbol of authority in the Chokwe culture. Standing nearly four feet high, the impressive specimen would have been a part of an aristocratic household.
Another superb example of the female form is a Baule Female Figure from the Ivory Coast (est. $20,000-30,000). Most likely carved in the 19th century or earlier, this stylized piece has an exceptional and highly abstract face with individualised features, reminiscent of Amedeo Modigliani's portraits. As with the Chokwe doorpost, raised scarifications adorns the Baule figure's cheeks, chin, neck, shoulders, back and stomach. A fine Punu mask from Gabon, also celebrates the feminine (est. $40,000-60,000). Taking the form of a perfectly proportioned woman's face, the gorgeous specimen's lips are enhanced with a remarkable red pigment. A rare Fang mask, also from Gabon, is equally striking (est. $60,000-80,000). Acquired from the storied Merton B. Simpson Gallery in the 1980s, the mask has the quintessential concave facial structure known to have inspired Picasso, Braque, Derain and other modern art masters who were influenced by tribal forms - and Fang sculpture in particular. Showing similarly elegant proportions and inventive angles, a superb mbulu ngulu, or Kota reliquary figure will also be offered (est. $50,000-70,000). Nearly two feet high, this copper and brass figure is an exceptional example of its type, which is unique among African forms.
Like the mbulu ngulu, a fine and rare New Zealand wahaika hand club from the auction's Oceanic section is also unique among other short-hand clubs used by the Maori (est. $40,000-60,000). Decorated with finely carved mythological figures and used for thrusting, rather like a short sword, this wahaika shows signs of combat. Offered on behalf of the Mark and Carolyn Blackburn collection, the club's provenance is exceptional. Perhaps the most interesting provenance of all belongs to a rare and important 18th century barbed spear collected on Captain Cook's third and final voyage to the Hawaiian Islands (est. $40,000-60,000). Also formerly a part of the Blackburn collection, the spear has exquisite dark-brown patina with marks indicative of manufacture without the use of metal tools.
The auction's three distinct collecting fields are undoubtedly united by the excellent jewellery examples on offer across categories. The Pre-Columbian section boasts a fine and rare gold pendant in the form of a shark from the Costa Rica/Panama area that is over 1000 years old (est. $15,000-20,000). A rare whale ivory, fibre and human hair necklace form the Hawaiian Islands called a lei niho palaoa on offer is accompanied by a curious black and white label in old script indicating the necklace was purchased in the Sandwich Islands for an astronomical $20 (est. $12,000-15,000). Many fine pieces of African jewellery from the esteemed collection of Marc and Denyse Ginzberg will also be offered. Two silver Moor anklets from Mauritania are particularly striking (est. $1,000-1,500).
Bonhams African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art auction will take place on May 15 in New York. The auction will preview at Bonhams May 11-15.
A fully illustrated catalogue is available at www.bonhams.com/auctions/20946.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
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 www.bonhams.com