Soon after the gallery doors close at the BRUNEAF fair in Brussels on June 10 all eyes turn to Paris where Christie’s and Sotheby’s will hold major African and Oceanic sales on succeeding days.
For their sale on June 11 Christie's have been able to draw on a number of long-established collections and one cache of objects which has been forgotten for the last 50 years in the basement of a Paris apartment.
Among the treasures to emerge from this obscurity is a Fang Mvai reliquary figure which is much admired for a rich glossy patina accumulated over centuries of sacrificial offerings.
Despite its neglect in recent years this collection is well documented in family archives, and annotated catalogues from French auctions of the 1920s indicate that much of it was assembled under the advice of the pre-War Paris dealer and champion of the Surrealists, Charles Ratton.
Impressive provenance also comes with a number of objects formerly owned by New York collector Russell B. Aitken who died in 2002, notably a much-published Yoruba horse and rider which was first recorded in the collection of French art critic Felix Feneon, who was calling for African art to be shown in the Louvre a century ago.
Another Aitken piece, a lifesize Sepik River Latmul figure from New Guinea, has a history of Western ownership, including the artist and collector Walter Bondy and the former editor of Vanity Fair, Frank Crowninshield.
There will be more names to conjure with at Sotheby's the following day where they will be offering the Oliver and Pamela Cobb collection of African sculpture including an outstanding Fang reliquary figure once owned by Edward G. Robinson.
Hailed as a masterpiece, by a carver from the valley of the Haut Ntem in north-eastern Gabon, this 17in (43cm) high statuette is estimated at €400,000-600,000.
Another eye-catching piece collected by the Seattle-based Cobbs is a Northern Hemba ancestor figure from the Luika region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was formerly part of the Jacques Kerchache collection in Paris and was acquired by the Cobbs in 1975.