Sotheby’s is to sell an exceptional Fang Mvai reliquary statue, one of the most extraordinary pieces of African art ever consigned to auction.
The piece is valued at $3.5m-5m ahead of the May 14 Shape of Beauty sale in Paris.
The Fang people live in a region of central Africa split between Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. They’re famed across the continent for the quality of their carvings.
This sculpture was made by the anonymous carver known as the Master of Ntem, who was active in the Ntem Valley in modern day Gabon in the 19th century. This area is home to the Mvai, a subset of the Fang tribe. The estimate puts it in new record territory, close to the $5.1m paid for a Fang Mabea figure in 2014.
The auction is made up of pieces from the collection of Howard and Saretta Barnet.
Unusually, the Barnet collection transcends time and place. Sculptures from ancient Greece to Olmec-era Mexico are juxtaposed, but all have been chosen with the same discerning eye for quality.
Jean Fritts, Sotheby’s worldwide chairman of African and Oceanic art, said: “Having known Saretta Barnet for more than twenty years, I was struck by the complete elegance of her and Howard’s collection, which gathered works of seemingly disparate cultures together in a stunning setting where each work of art, be it the Kenneth Noland painting or the Sugimoto photograph, lived so well with wonderful ancient sculpture, African art, and American Indian art.”
The auction follows on from the recent Colour of Beauty and Line of Beauty sales, which auctioned off the couple’s collections of contemporary and old master drawing.