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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Sotheby’s New York Spring Sale Of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art

New York, NY – The spring sale of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art is built around an historic offering from several distinguished private collections. The 163 lots offered are estimated to sell for $4.7/6.7 million* and will be on exhibition at Sotheby’s New York prior to the auction from May 10th through May 15th.


Sotheby’s will offer 32 works from The Dinhofer Collection, highlighted by A Magnificent and Highly Important Baga Serpent (est. $1.5/2 million, pictured on page 1), a great sculptural object from The Republic of Guinea. This monumental clan insignia was collected in 1957, just prior to the country’s independence, by art dealers Henri and Hélène Kamer. By 1961, the serpent was sold by the Kamers to the gallery of one of the most important dealers of 20th century art: Pierre Matisse, the son of Henri Matisse. In Matisse’s gallery on East 57th Street in New York, the Baga Serpent was exhibited alongside works by Joan Miró and various group shows of contemporary artists including Wifredo Lam, Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Giacometti.

Examining the alliance of African and Contemporary Art at the gallery since the 1930s, scholar Michael FitzGerald argues: “Perhaps the most fascinating association of the Baga piece is with the art of the 1960s. During the years when Matisse owned the sculpture and periodically exhibited it in his gallery (1962-67), artists in New York were defining a new art that eschewed the emotive goals of much Abstract Expressionist work. In doing so, several turned again to tribal work for inspiration. Here, the possibility exists that the artists may have seen the Baga Serpent on view at Matisse and responded to it.”

Specifically, the exhibition of the Baga Serpent in Matisse’s gallery may have had an influence on the creation of Alexander Calder’s Short Lipped Snake from 1973.

Matisse was one of the earliest dealers in New York to show African Art. Together with Charles Ratton, a legendary dealer from Paris, Matisse organized exhibitions of African and Oceanic art as early as 1934, which coincided with the landmark show of African Negro Art at The Museum of Modern Art in 1935. Matisse’s 1934 exhibition of Oceanic Art and 1935 exhibition of African Sculptures from the Ratton Collection received high acclaim.

Selections from the 31 works being offered from The Walter and Molly Bareiss Collection of African Art include A Superb and Important Songye Community Power Figure, which was collected in situ by Gaston Heenen, Governor of Katanga, before 1937 (est.$250/350,000). Walter Bareiss was briefly an interim director of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and he amassed a strong collection of 20th century American and European Art before turning his passions towards African art during the last twenty years of his life. Walter and Molly Bareiss, who passed away in 2007 and 2006, respectively, viewed African Art as an aesthetic of the highest accomplishment and complexity. They concentrated their collection on pieces from Central Africa and Southeastern Africa, an area largely ignored by other collectors and museums at the time that they purchased the works. An example from this region is A Superb and Rare Luguru Throne (est. $40/60,000, pictured above right), from Tanzania.

Another varied offering of 32 works is designated as African Treasures from the Bohlen Collection, highlighted by A Baule Male Figure, attributed to one of the Masters of Sakassou (est. $60/90,000, pictured at left). A Superb Nomoli Stone Figure, Guinea Bissau, 1500 A.D. or earlier, (est. $12/18,000) will also be offered from the Bohlen Collection.

From a Private Collection, Sotheby’s will offer a Punu Mask (est. $60/90,000, pictured at right). This lost treasure was published in 1915 in a seminal book entitled Negerplastik by Carl Einstein, which had great influence on artists of the 20th century who bought the book and studied its objects. A number of sketches and drawings of the African objects from Negerplastik have been found in the notebooks of important artists of the time. The location of this Punu Mask has been unknown for more than 60 years, and Sotheby’s is proud to offer this rediscovered treasure in its May sale.


The Oceanic offerings include an Archaic Solomon Island Canoe Prow Ornament (est. $40/60,000, pictured at left), measuring 6 ½ inches high, acquired by the present owner in the 1960s from Werner Gillon. Another exceptional highlight from this region is a Marshall Islands Pounder, made from the shell of a Tridacna Gigas (giant clam), (est. $20/30,000).

Only a handful of these extremely rare pounders, whose delicate shapes mirror the curves of Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space, are known to exist.


Sotheby’s will offer approximately 30 Pre-Columbian objects, a highlight being a Large Olmec Jade Mask, ca. 500-300 BC, (est.$500/700,000), a dramatic portrayal of an idealized portrait with large pierced eyes, which was exhibited at the Paris Biennale of 1988.

A Maya Mosaic Jade Belt Mask, ca. 600 AD (est. $150/250,000) was exhibited at Princeton University Art Museum in the 1997 exhibition In Celebration, Works of Art from the Collections of Princeton Alumni. This work was an important piece of elite ceremonial regalia, which served to reinforce a Maya’s social position and political power. Two additional Maya objects from The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Georges DeMenil will be offered (est. $8/15,000 each).

Many of the Pre-Columbian offerings are related to collections in the African section of the sale; for example, from The Dinhofer Collection comes a Tiwanaku Wood Beaker, ca. AD 500-1000 (est. $35/45,000) which was exhibited in 1969 at the Andre Emmerich gallery and is from Peru or Bolivia. This work depicts a carved mythological face of a key deity and is distinguished by its fierce snarling expression. Also being offered in the Pre-Columbian section of the sale is a lovely group of Chinesco figures from The Marilyn and Bruce Throckmorten Collection in California, which range in estimate from $8,000 to $30,000.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium.