There’s no doubt that auctioneers and vendors are discovering that the UK’s country houses, furnished with the routine period objects that no longer generate great excitement, can occasionally yield valuable souvenirs of a colonial past.
Tribal art departments
One result of this recent activity is that four UK regional salerooms now have a designated tribal art department: Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh, Summers Place Auctions in Billingshurst and Duke’s in Dorchester have all made recent appointments. Woolley & Wallis, the first saleroom to bring tribal sales back into the UK auction calendar after sales stopped in London, has been holding biannual sales in Salisbury since 2014.
The subject is vast and complex, but in among the countless examples of tourist art are treasures such as the c.1500 Benin bronze memorial head that W&W sold in a 2016 private-treaty sale (in association with Entwistle) for a price believed to be a record for any piece of tribal art.
Typically, most buyers in this field are from overseas, with the number of dedicated UK dealers and collectors still relatively small. However, with all the correct demographics in place, London has at least the potential to become a market centre.
Now in its 11th iteration and a precursor to the Paris Parcours des Mondes, is Tribal Art London held at the Mall Galleries, London SW1, on September 5-8. The fair is the only dedicated UK specialist collectors’ event in this field and has 21 participants from the UK, Europe, Africa and the US.