The late 19th century works of Paul Cezanne are an obvious influence but Picasso was also inspired by African tribal masks. Such items are now often sold in the art and antiques market under the banner of tribal art.
As the Tate gallery notes: “These masks are highly stylised, or non-naturalistic, but nevertheless present a vivid human image. ‘A head’, said Picasso, ‘is a matter of eyes, nose, mouth, which can be distributed in any way you like’.”
Picasso is said to have experienced a ‘revelation’ when he viewed African art at an ethnographic museum in Paris. The influence can be seen clearly in what has become known as the artist’s African Period of 1906-09. His 1907 masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, is believed to show clear African inspiration.
Peter Wilson sale
Cheshire auction house Peter Wilson are offering a wide range of tribal art from a huge single-owner collection which has sparked a number of specialist sections in sales at their Nantwich base.
The collection was amassed over several decades from the late 1980s by a collector who bought from the big three London salerooms, specialist dealers and fairs and even directly from locations in Africa. His love of the country was such that he retired to live there but the collection was so big, he had to leave it behind in storage. However, costs have mounted and it is being sold in order to recover charges.
The first sale was held in November last year. Four have taken place so far. On July 21 a Peter Wilson selection included several examples of African tribal art items. A pair of Bamana, now Mali, puppets originally purchased by the owner at Sotheby’s in 1987 sold to a local collector bidding in the room for a top-estimate £500.
It is unnerving to learn that in order to regenerate its powers, sacrifices would have been given to a Baule Mbotumbo (monkey god) carved with the head of a monkey head and human body. It sold to an online London buyer for £340 against an estimate of £40-60.
A head fashioned in terracotta from the Nok village in Nigeria sold to a London buyer online for £480 (estimate £80-120), while a Benin plaque sold for £460 (estimate £100-150). The latter was purchased by a London buyer who travelled specially to attend the sale.
Interest in tribal art is widespread and Peter Wilson auctioneer Chris Large said bids came from all corners in this sale. “Half the lots went to buyers in the room who had travelled from all over the country, while the other half was bought by bidders online. We had buyers from California, Belgium, Denmark and Swaziland.”
A gruesome, yet fascinating, carved head, probably used in rituals by the Ekoi people of south-east Nigeria, was secured by a Danish collector for £420 (estimate £50-80), while a mask from the Songye peoples, a Bantu group from central Congo, were purchased by a collector in California for £320 (estimate £50-100).
From September 1-4 the Tribal Art London fair is held at the Mall Galleries. It is followed by the biggie in this market across the Channel, the Parcours des Mondes tribal trail in the St Germain Left Bank quarter of Paris.
The next Peter Wilson sale from his tribal art collection, with 100-150 lots, is on September 29.