Sotheby’s Paris sale confirms appetite for African art

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Thursday’s sale of African & Oceanic art at Sotheby’s Paris confirms the growing strength of African Art in the global art market. The highlight of the sale was the sale of the iconic Fang Mabea figure for €4,353,500 ($5,914,099), well above its high estimate of €3.5m: a world auction record for a Fang figure, and the third-highest price for a work of African Art ever achieved at auction.

The masterly figure, chosen to illustrate the cover of the specialist ‘bible’ L’Art Africain by Kerchache, Paudrat & Stéphan (published by Mazenod in 1988), formerly belonged to Félix Fénéon and Jacques Kerchache.

To Marguerite de Sabran, head of African & Oceanic Art at Sotheby’s Paris, “This exceptional sculpture is the work of a virtuoso artist, and surpasses time and geography to attain the status of a Universal work of art.

“Its aesthetics and power fascinated Félix Fénéon and Jacques Kerchache, two towering figures passionately committed to furthering appreciation of tribal art, and who both made it the cornerstone of their collections. This record price ensures its place in art market history.”

Ever since it was discovered by members of the Avant-Garde on the eve of World War I, Fang sculpture has been considered the pinnacle of African art. Such items, however, remain very rare and, even today, fewer than a dozen works compose the most restrained corpus of Fang sculpture: that of the Fang Mabea (Cameroon).

The 67 cm figure offered by Sotheby’s is the most important item from this ensemble, and the only one still in private hands.

Works from the Bernd Muhlack Collection also stood out during the sale, notably those conveying the sculptural power of art from the Bamileke kingdoms of Cameroon – notably a monumental Bamileke figure combining violence of expression with dazzling plastic audacity. This posted the evening’s second-highest price of €397,500 ($ 539,992) (lot 61).

The iconic Fang Mabea figure
The iconic Fang Mabea figure