Benin bronze
This 16th century bronze Benin head of a youthful oba was sold in a private treaty sale for a “substantial seven-figure sum” by Woolley & Wallis in association with dealer Entwistle in 2016.

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The Salisbury saleroom was contacted by the owner of this bronze Benin head of a youthful oba or king in early in 2016.

Cast in leaded bronze with two vertical incisions between the eyebrows inlaid with iron, it would have held a place of honour on an altar in the palace of the kingdom of Benin (in present-day Nigeria), during the 16th century.

In association with Entwistle, tribal art dealers in London and Paris, it was later sold to a private collector for what W&W chairman Paul Viney told ATG was a “substantial seven-figure sum which we believe to be a record price for any Benin work of art”.

Given the political sensitivities surrounding the sale of Benin artefacts, they rarely come to auction.

Benin Bronze Auction Record

The auction record for a Benin bronze was set in 2007 when Sotheby’s New York sold a head of an oba dated c.1575-1625, deaccessioned from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery of Buffalo, New York, for a premium-inclusive $4.74m.

The auction of this Benin bronze contributed “a substantial seven-figure sum” to the Salisbury auctioneers’ total hammer sales of £22.9m.

The headline figure (representing a 67% increase on £13.66m in 2015) means W&W has achieved the highest total for a fine art auctioneer outside London for nearly a decade.

It is also close to a provincial record, second only to the £23.36m the firm posted in 2010 when £9m was provided by just seven Qing jades.

The January to December figures showed particularly strong contributions from Asian art (£4.38m), jewellery (£3.72m) and silver (£1.81m).

Chairman Paul Viney said: “It’s been a good year. Our overall selling rate by lot for the year was 79% which is satisfactory.

A full report on the annual totals for auctioneers appears in this week’s ATG newspaper.