Tribal Arts Auction At Bonhams New York

On May 13th Bonhams will present a highly anticipated sale of Fine African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art at its New York galleries. Comprised of nearly 200 lots, the sale includes works of art from a number of distinguished collections as well exceptional pieces from various owners.

Featured is a group of twenty-four African works of art, many having been published and exhibited, from the estate of an important California collector. Standing out amongst these is the sale’s cover lot: an important and rare Baga standing female figure (pictured, left) from the Republic of Guinea. Finely carved she features a braided coiffure highlighted with a high crest down the center, identifiable Baga double-marks on each cheek, geometric and linear patterns intricately carved on her back, ringed incisions around the elongated neck and metal tacks inset around the face and back of the head. Exhibited at The Museum for African Art, New York, the piece was also published in “Art of the Baga” by Frederick Lamp, 1996. Estimated at $150,000-200,000 this exceptional and unique Baga figure embodies all the characteristics of Baga art in elegance and style.

Also from the collection is an important Bamana Ntomo mask from Mali. Published in “A Human Ideal in African Art” by Kate Ezra for the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1986), the striking lot carries an estimate of $50,000-70,000.

Additionally, the collection boasts a Dan mask, zakpei ge or gunye ge from the Ivory Coast. Of exceptional form with an elaborately braided fiber and hair coiffure, and a braided fiber beard with bells along the base of the chin, the dramatic piece is estimated at $30,000-40,000.

Highlighting the Oceanic portion of the sale are a number of strong Hawaiian lots from various owners. Amongst these is a royal feather necklace or lei hulu, with brilliant orange and red feathers. Reserved for the exclusive use of the nobility, the mere possession of feathers by commoners was strictly forbidden. The feathers utilized in the construction of these royal ornaments were obtained by specially-trained hereditary bird catchers (po’e kahai manu). This superb example carries an estimate of $30,000-40,000.

An important ivory, human hair and indigenous cordage necklace is also certain to draw bidder attention. Called a lei niho palaoa it is composed of multiple, finely braided strands of human hair threaded through a large marine ivory hook and its pendant glows with a rich, creamy, honey-brown patina. With braided hair bundles much thicker and fuller than normally found in these pieces, the present lot is expected to fetch $25,000-35,000.

Also of interest is an important and rare refuse bowl, ipu ‘aina. Of classic form with turned-in rim and well worn original finish, it is presented with two hand-written affixed labels, one reading: “Spit dish of a Sandwich Islands Chief. Presented by Mr. Ruggles”; the other: “East Windsor Hill Seminary.” Estimated at $25,000-35,000, the historic piece was presented to Samuel Ruggles (1795-1871), one of the earliest Hawaiian Protestant missionaries.

The sale also offers a diverse array of Pre-Columbian objects from various cultures across Central and South America. Sure to interest bidders is an exceptional and monumental Type A, Protoclassic Chinesco male and female couple, circa 100 B.C – 250 A.D. With orange-red and light cream slip; cream, black and red painted decorations; earrings and nose rings the lot is estimated at $50,000-70,000.

A Veracruz stone avian hacha represents another exceptional collecting opportunity. On this classic, circa 450-650 A.D. piece, an avian figure forms the prominent element of the two-sided composition. Shown in an upright posture with large beak, circular eyes, and carved feathers on the abdomen and wings, the artistic accomplishments by the artist to work within the confines of a strictly prescribed form in this case is remarkable. The impressive lot carries an estimate of $70,000-100,000.

Another significant pre-Columbian lot is a monumental Marajo urn. With raised images of sacred caimans, the piece stands 32 inches in height and is dated circa 900 AD. Exhibited at the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s 2009 “Vanishing Worlds” show, the lot is expected to fetch $45,000-60,000.

Also cause for excitement is a rare circa 200-500 A.D. Nariño Ceremonial Gold Crown. Weighing 93.5 grams of flexible soft gold, it is accented with seven chinche beetles, a species that was highly adored in the agricultural ceremonies as it was used to combat plagues. Presented with a letter of authentication, the lot is estimated at $25,000-30,000.