Arts from Africa and Oceania: the very best is in DrouotBy Artkhade
Paris, 5 November 2019
Pieces that should be displayed in museums. For its sale of African and Oceania arts on 14 November in Drouot, Binoche & Giquello is focusing on exceptional works, particularly with the dispersion of the Maurice Nicaud collection and the masks from Burkina Faso from Thomas G. B. Wheelock.
The Nicaud collection marks the end of his succession. This final session illustrates the epic story of this collector-dealer who, like Helene Kamer, was one of the first to bring back traditional objects from Guinea in the early 1950s, before the country fell entirely under the control of President Sékou Touré at the time of the country’s independence in 1958. “What allowed Maurice Nicaud – or Hélène Kamer – to bring back those very beautiful objects was also this very specific political situation,” explains Patrick Caput, the sales expert. Even before becoming president, Sékou Touré had already tried to destroy animist cultures. Around the same time, a number of Muslim preachers arrived in the villages and martyred the populations, burning the objects. In this climate of religious, cultural and traditional insecurity, the elders more easily agreed to give objects to visiting collectors because they knew they were otherwise destined for destruction.”
From his travels, Maurice Nicaud brought back an exceptional Baga drum with caryatids (lot 24), probably from the end of the 19th century, whose beautiful brown-red patina wood was formerly polychrome. “All pieces of this importance are now in museums,” explains the specialist. One of them, which is probably of the same hand – that is, the same artist or studio – is kept in the British Museum.” A sort of counterpart to the British Museum’s sculpture, the A-Dnëf drum of the women’s society of the Nicaud collection consists of a kneeling mother presenting a female figure in front of her, while that of the London Museum projects a male figure. “It is probably the last Baga drum of this level that is still in private hands and is now on the market.”
Although similar works have reached records in the past, such as the drum of the Boussard collection now kept at the Smithsonian in Washington, the rarity of these objects and the lack of reference on the market explain its “reasonable” estimates according to Patrick Caput: between €150,000 and €200,000. In any case, there is no doubt that this collection will go down in history in the same way the Vérité one did.
Another notable collection for sale is that of Thomas G. B. Wheelock, a fine connoisseur of Burkina Faso art who, during his travels, has built up the largest collection of Burkinabe works in the world. Here, Binoche et Giquello is selling 14 of his masks. “Burkina Faso’s art is sometime overlooked in France,” Patrick Caput insists. The reason? The market mainly offers recent objects, as the cults are still very lively in the country. With production still abundant, antiquities are harder to find. “The first characteristic of masks in the Wheelock collection are their age. They are also very specific from a typological point of view. Finally, we manage to obtain low valuation prices from the succession in order to maximize attention on this art of masks.”