Carefully selected statues, masks and ceremonial objects reflect the couple’s lifelong interest in the art of Africa and Oceania
Patrick Caput’s philosophy as a collector of African, Oceanic and Southeast Asian art has remained implacable. Over 50 years the French collector and his wife, Béatrice, have amassed a collection notable for its exclusivity.
‘Each object is in dialogue with the others, which gives the collection a real coherence,’ says Rémy Magusteiro, junior specialist in African, Oceanic, North American and Pre-Columbian Art at Christie’s Paris. ‘You can really see the acuteness of a collector’s eye that has been developed over many years.’
Thirty-four prized pieces from their collection, including statues, masks, sceptres and a ceremonial stool, will be auctioned at Christie’s Paris on 20 October. Here are five of the most noteworthy.
This ceremonial stool, which was carved from a single piece of wood, comes from the southeast of what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its distinctive form, which incorporates a caryatid, expresses the Luba conception of the female body as a spiritual vessel of divine kingship.
Despite their functional appearance, such royal stools were display pieces for royal insignia kept within a palace. Each one was a metaphorical representation of the right to rule of a long line of sacred kings. ‘As an object it conjures all of the mastery of Luba artists,’ says Magusteiro. ‘It not only reflects their traditional standards of beauty but also the important role of ancestral lineage from a political, social and religious point of view.’ The influence of the neighbouring Hemba people, meanwhile, can be seen in the idealised realism of the caryatid’s face.
This reliquary figure from Gabon is an archetypal example of the Shamaye style, with its strong silhouette and emphasis on facial expressiveness. Such pieces proved to be inspirational for many well-known modernist artists in the West, especially Pablo Picasso during his Cubist period. ‘In this figure we can see the kind of corporeal deconstruction and three-dimensionality that Picasso confronted in 1907 with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,’ says Magusteiro.
This flute-stopper from the Yuat River region in Papua New Guinea exemplifies impeccable craftsmanship and attention to detail. Magusteiro underlines ‘the use of mother-of-pearl for the eyes, the sulky play of the lips and massive hollowed nose’. This example was acquired in the 1930s by Arthur Ernest Wilkinson.
In the Biwat language wusear is the name given to these objects, which were used to block one end of their bamboo flutes. During male initiation ceremonies the sound of flutes signalled the presence of ancestral spirits. This stopper is one of the most remarkable examples of a limited corpus characterised by the small size of the forehead and stocky build. Besides their practical use, wusear were also exchanged at weddings, with the bride receiving a gift from her father of a mounted stopper, which she kept for her whole life. Her son could then inherit it and, in turn, give it to his daughter.
The migratory nature of the Kusu people was reflected in their art, which drew on the intersection of Luba, Songye and Hemba traditions in the southeastern region of the current Democratic Republic of the Congo. This effigy of an ancestor personifies an inherent elegance. ‘It’s especially notable in the way the arms hang downwards, which is quite rare for this kind of statuary,’ says Magusteiro. ‘You can also see it in the projection of the hands, the angular head and the vaulted headdress.’
Prior owners included the French art dealer Charles Ratton and the gallerist Myriam Prévot-Douatte, who often exhibited the works by artists such as Hans Hartung, Pierre Soulages and Serge Poliakoff. ‘Prévot-Douatte realised quite early on that the modernity of these artists had been influenced by African art,’ adds Magusteiro.
The Ifugao people have long been renowned for their rice terraces in the Cordilleras mountains of northern Luzon in the Philippines. They practised a religion that was believed to have more than 1,500 gods, divided into several categories. One of these was bulul – rice gods – which comprised at least 25 named deities. This masterpiece of Ifugao art, representing a seated figure, dazzles with the universality of its form. Its purified aspect harks back to some of the world’s oldest anthropomorphic representations, such as sculpted creations of Neolithic or Cycladic art.
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