Kwele mask from Gabon in the form of an antelope’s head estimated at €300,000-500,000 in the March 6 sale at Christie’s in Paris. 

Photo: Vincent Girier Dufournier © Christie’s Images Lmt 2024

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The collecting odyssey was started by Joseph Mueller (1887-1977) and encompassed fine art including modern paintings as well as antiquities and tribal art, the latter field being one where he was among the earliest collectors.

He made his ethnographic purchases from leading Parisian dealers of the time such as Ernst Ascher, Charles Ratton, Antony Moris and Pierre Vérité and between 1936 and 1940 meticulously recorded his purchases in black notebooks.

After Joseph’s death his son-in-law Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller (1930-2016), a bibliophile collector in his own right, and his daughter Monique (1929-2019) went on to expand the ethnographic elements of the collection. They focused particularly on Oceanic and south-east Asian art and in 1977 founded the Barbier-Mueller museum in Geneva.

On March 6 Christie’s Paris rooms holds a sale that draws on the acquisitions of all three collectors in a sale titled Barbier-Mueller Art as Legacy.

It will feature 100 lots of Oceanic and African works from their collection, many with notable provenances.

Among the highlights from the African element will be a 14in (36cm) Fang reliquary head from Gabon, acquired in 1939 by Joseph Mueller from Antony Innocent Morris, which has an estimate on request.

A rare 11½in (29cm) wooden double mask from the Baule peoples of the Ivory Coast (also estimate on request) comes from the collection of Henri Kamer and was acquired in 1978 by Monique and Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller.

The 15in (38cm) high Kwele antelope mask from Gabon shown here, acquired by Jean-Paul and Monique in 1979 and estimated at €300,000-500,000, has a provenance to André Fourquet and Merton D Simpson.

Elaborate shield


Large elaborately decorated elliptical shield from the Solomon islands estimated at €500,000-700,000 at Christie's. 

Photo: Vincent Girier Dufournier © Christie’s Images Lmt 2024

The Oceanic material will include the large 2ft 8in (81cm) high shield from the Solomon Islands also pictured.

Constructed from wicker and elaborately decorated in red and black and applied with rows of nautilus shell, it is another Joseph Mueller acquisition from 1939 and has an estimate of €500,000-700,000.