La Gazette Drouot
Enchères - La Collection Vérité
Vérité Collection: €44 M
A positive shower of records marked the sale of the Vérité collection, opening the festive proceedings in Paris dedicated to Tribal Art, which started with the inauguration du Musée du Quai Branly.
The historical character of this collection built up by two generations – Pierre, the father, and Claude, the son – at a key period for the collection of African and Oceanic objets d’art, sharpened the appetites of bidders, sometimes beyond the reasonable, for large and small items alike. The large objects attracted no fewer than eight bids over the million mark, including costs. The most spectacular, €5 M, an absolute world record for tribal art, went to the highly anticipated Ngil Fang mask from Gabon (reproduced here). It was bought by telephone by a European collector, who made a decisive leap against the room by offering €400,000 more than the previous bid.  This mask, which had featured in the major exhibition "Primitivism in 20th Century Art: the Affinity of Tribal and Modern Art" staged in 1984 by the MoMA in New York, was certainly much coveted, as it made a lightning jump from its opening price, €500,000, to €1.5 M before rapidly attaining the €5 M. Probably carved in the 19th century, our mask was part of an ensemble, of which only ten or so antique large-scale examples are listed.
Statue of Chokwe hunter, hardwood. Angola. H. 49 cm
Record for this ethnic group.
This is considered one of the most outstanding because of its ornamentation, patina and the perfection of its volumes. The thickness of the kaolin covering it bears witness to repeated use over a long period during ceremonies of which little is known. The secret society of the Ngils is a highly repressive judiciary and police-like brotherhood. Enough to feed the imagination as well as the bids! We now leave Gabon and turn to a world record for the Chokwe art of Angola, €3.2 M, set by the statue of a hunter (reproduced on the following page), a victory won by a telephone bid against the room. This Chokwe hunter is considered finer than the one in the Musée du Quai Branly. Now we turn to the Ivory Coast, with the €2.5 M given for a Senufo deble statue: here again, a world record was set for this ethnic group.  This wooden statue with a dark brown patina (H. 93 cm) was used as a rhythm pounder for dancing during initiation rituals in the Poro society. Its morphological characteristics and Northern style imply that it was made in the Sikasso region. The specialist Pierre Amrouche indicated that it was one of the last examples "still at liberty". The Ivory Coast yet again obtained a record at €1.1 M for the Baoules, with an astonishing two-faced Nda mask in wood with a brown and black patina. Its highest estimate had been €300,000. This probably dates from the mid-19th century, and represents twins, or "nda". In principle, this type of mask had no other meaning than of marking a happy event, the birth of twins, during ceremonies.
A few lots further on, the battle between a woman bidder in the room and a telephone was eventually won by the latter, setting a world record for a Baga Nimba divinity from Guinea at €1.9 M. The existence of these large sculptures has been attested since the middle of the 19th century, and they seem to have been used until about 1950. This mask exalts woman as a fertile nourishment-provider, as emphasised by the prominent breasts of our sculpture. Of the fifteen or so antique nimbas listed, this one stands out for its size and the fine balance of its composition.
Ivory Coast. Wood with brown and black patina. H. 28 cm
Record for this ethnic group.
The 80 Oceanic art numbers went under the hammer for €3,508,300, probably a record in this field. Nine six-figure bids were offered. This was the only section in the whole sale where the State exercised its right of pre-emption, for €48,000 (the estimate was €15,000), naturally on behalf of the Musée Branly, for a lintel from the region of the village of Maprik in New Guinea. It belonged to the former Ernest Ascher collection. In polychrome wood (L. 330 cm), it is carved at each end with a female figure and a male figure, their heads framed by two birds. The centre of the piece has a carved squatting female figure between sinusoidal motifs. The prize in the Oceania section went to the fish skull shrine from the Solomon Islands, formerly in the collection of the London merchant, North (€600,000). Large skull shrines from these islands are extremely rare. This one contains the skull of a venerated ancestor. The impeccable pedigree of a Malangan effigy from New Ireland brought it €300,000, the high estimate having been €50,000. This used to be part of the collections of Paul Éluard, Charles Ratton and Maurice de Vlaminck. In the sale of the latter's collection in July 1937 at Drouot, it fetched FF900 (€450 at today's value). Made of polychrome wood (H. 115 cm), it represents a female figure standing on bent legs with crossed arms, holding a stylised dance ornament in her mouth, which joins the pyramidal headdress. This probably dates from the end of the 19th century. In terms of Oceanic art, the highest price ever registered in France had gone to the ancestral Uli cult effigy in the Breton collection, bought for €1.1 M by Aube Ellouët-Breton as a gift to the Jacques Doucet Library. Nevertheless, the Uli piece from central New Ireland in the Verité collection, of lesser quality, went for €130,000, its high estimate having been €60,000.
Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 June. Paris, Hôtel Drouot
Enchères Rive Gauche auction house. Mssrs. Amrouche, de Monbrison.
La Gazette Drouot N°25 - 23 juin 2006 - Sylvain Alliod
Key figures
for the collection

First floor of Drouot mobilised for six days
Over 15,000 visitors in two days.

514 lots described
Weight: 2.918 kg.
Price: €100.
6,000 copies distributed.

4 sessions spread over two days.
Nearly one thousand people attended each sale session.

Overall estimate:
€12 to 17 M.
Total of sale:
€44 M including buyer’s premium
Lowest bid: €600
Highest bid: €5 M
8 bids higher than €1 M including buyer’s premium.
46 bids higher than €150,000 including buyer’s premiums.

€44 M: total for a sale of Tribal Art
€5 M: world record for a Tribal objet d’art.
And records for the Chokwes (€3.2 M),
the Senufos (€2.5 M),
the Bagas (€1.9 M),
the Baoules (€1.1 M),  
and others as well.

A collection at the very top
in the speciality
Vérité Collection:
€44 M.
Hubert Goldet Collection:
FF88.4 M (€15.6 M at today's value) - 30 June,
1 July 2001, Paris, Maison de la Chimie, Etude de Ricqlès.
Harry A. Franklin Collection:
$7.13 M (€8 M at today's value) - 21 April 1990,
New York, Sotheby’s.
Béla Hein Collection:
€5.6 M€ - 6 June 2005, Paris, Drouot, Fraysse & Associés auction houseV.
André Breton Collection
(Primitive Arts):

€5 M€ - 17 April 2003, Paris, Drouot, Calmels-Cohen auction house.
René Gaffé Collection:
27,7 MF (€4,5 M at today's value) - 8 November 2001, Paris, Avenue Matignon, Artus and Chambre-Calmels-Cohen études.
Helena Rubinstein Collection:
$472 595 (€2.6 M at today's value) - 21-29 April 1966, New York, Sotheby’s.
Pierre Guerre Collection:
FF12 M (€2 M at today's value) - 20 June 1996, Paris, Drouot-Montaigne, Etude Loudmer.
Gaston de Havenon Collection:
FF10.4 M (€1,8 M€ at today's value) - 21 June 1994, Paris, Drouot, Etude de Quayy.