Offered at Lyon & Turnbull’s African & Oceanic sale on March 21, the 10.5in (27cm) long headrest is carved from wood, evoking the shape of an animal, and was made in Durban or the surrounding hinterlands. It features the distinct pattern of striations that mark certain north Nguni objects of the mid-late 19th century. However, the decorative style is usually applied to vessels.
“It’s a very rare type,” the auction house’s Alex Tweedy told ATG. “The style is associated with elite workshops that provided goods for wealthy elites in the area, including westerners. You see it on elite vessels which have quite a following and good examples tend to get five figures.”
The headrest came from a private Scottish collection and was estimated at £3000-5000.
“We knew we had something special from the outset but because of rarity we had no way of knowing just how well it would do,” Tweedy said.
It was eventually knocked down to a phone bidder from the Continent.
“You only have to look at it to see it’s the work of a master craftsman,” Tweedy added.