Sotheby's to Offer the First Work of Classical African Art in Any Contemporary Art Evening Sale this June
The stunningly elegant female head from a reliquary ensemble expresses the universal artistic ideas developed by pre-Colonial African artists which were transmitted to modern Western masters in the early 20th century, including Constantin Brâncuși and Amadeo Modigliani. This artistic connection is particularly evident in Modigliani’s famed stone head sculptures. Fang art, from present-day Gabon, has been described as ‘the very summit of African creativity’ and is perennially the style of African art most coveted by collectors. The Clyman Fang Head is one of the finest exponents of this tradition with its exceptionally elegant geometric form, and important Throughout its lifetime, the Clyman Fang Head has frequently been in dialogue with and positioned alongside modern and contemporary art. The first known Western owner was Charles Ratton, the Parisian doyen of African art dealers and connoisseurs who handled many of the most revered masterpieces in the field. Ratton published the head in 1931 in Masques Africains, an important work in establishing the canon of great African art. In the 1930s the head was acquired from Ratton by James Johnson Sweeney, the visionary American modern art curator and writer, who, with the assistance of Ratton, organized the legendary 1935 exhibition African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Sweeney kept the head in his Mies van der Rohe designed New York apartment along with his small but exquisite collection of modern art, which included major works by Miró, Mondrian, and Calder. When Sweeney’s estate was sold at Sotheby’s in New York in 1986 the head was acquired by William McCarty-Cooper, who had inherited the art historian and collector Douglas Cooper’s fabled collection of Picassos and other Cubist works. The sculpture last appeared on the market in 1992 when the Clymans acquired it at auction in New York.
It was shown in 1995-96 at the Royal Academy in London and at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in the monumental exhibition Africa: Art of a Continent and was later included in the 2008 exhibition Eternal Ancestors: Art of the Central African Reliquary at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The Contemporary Art Evening Auction also includes works from the Clyman Collection by Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky.
AFRICAN ART FROM THE COLLECTION OF SIDNEY AND BERNICE CLYMAN
Auction Week of 29 June
Featuring 32 works, African Art from the Collection of Sidney and Bernice Clyman is one of the finest collections of Sub-Saharan African Art in the world and one of the last remaining collections from the golden age of African Art collecting in the US during the 1960s and 70s. Epitomizing the taste of American collectors of that period, the Clyman Collection is particularly strong in classic reliquary sculpture of Central Africa, including major examples of Fang and Kota Art from the equatorial forests of the Atlantic coast. Leading the dedicated auction is a masterpiece by the greatest of all Kota artists, a Reliquary Figure by the Sebe River Master of the Skull Head (estimate $500/700,000), which was previously in the legendary collections of Charles Ratton, Morris J. Pinto, and Murray Frum, and appeared in the exhibition and publication Eternal Ancestors: Art of the Central African Reliquary at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007-8. An extraordinarily large and radically abstract Mahongwe Reliquary Figure (estimate $300/500,000) from Gabon was also included in Eternal Ancestors and represents one of the largest and finest surviving examples from this small but iconic corpus. Complimenting the Clyman Fang Head is a full-figured Fang Reliquary Statue (estimate $250/350,000) of cubistic aesthetics, which was previously in the collection of Gaston de Havenon.
Other highlights include an early and expressive Songye Mask (estimate $70/100,000) acquired by the Clymans from Merton D. Simpson, and a rare and exceptionally fine Senufo Male and Female Couple (estimate $100/150,000), in which the male is depicted on horseback, and was published in the landmark MoMA project “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art in 1984.
*Three African Traditions: The Art of the Dogon, Fang and Songye, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1999.
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