Bewitching sale at Dorotheum

Vienna, 28 November 2018

On Tuesday 4 December there will be a remarkable tribal art session at Dorotheum in Vienna. To mark the end of the year, the auctions will be held in line with the theme of the four elements (Earth, Fire, Ether, Water). No less than 130 objects from several private collections will be scattered under the gaze of amateurs from all over the world. 85 of them are from the Franco Monti collection, one of the leading figures in the history of tribal art in the 20th century.

Born in Milan in 1931, Franco Monti became involved in sculpture in the 1950s. He developed a formal vocabulary of raw and bold lines, using clay and stone as the medium. Collectivity quickly caught up with him, and he soon attended the scholarly circles of the French school of anthropology. It is in this context that he made his first trips to sub-Saharan Africa. He acquires treasures from the contact with local cultures. Back in Europe, he organised exhibitions of African art, particularly in Italy. He works with the famous creators Giacometti, Marini, Fontana, Chirico, but also with influential figures in the art market such as Peggy Guggenheim. In Paris, he also collaborates with Charles Ratton. In 1962, he became a corresponding member of the French Union of Professional Experts in Works of Art. Franco Monti writes in the Corriere della Sera and participates in numerous exhibitions. In 1967, he organised a retrospective of his African collection at the Kunsthalle in Darmstadt. He also collaborates with the Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna in Turin (1971) and the Palazzo Reale in Milan (1979). “What is remarkable about Franco Monti is his sense of wonder”, says Joris Visser, Dorotheum’s tribal expert. “In his collection, most of the pieces represent human figures in all possible genres. This extends from the realism of the Baule masks to the pure abstraction of the Bembe masks or Senufo objects. Monti was an artist and collector, but he was also a renowned broker among the greatest European amateurs. Especially in Switzerland and Italy.”

Songye Nkishi figure, 19th century. H. 102 cm., Provenance: Josef Christiaens, estimate: EUR 220,000 to 240,000

Franco Monti's legacy will be scattered among remarkable pieces of tribal art, including a 19th century Songye Nkishi figure (estimated €220,000 to €240,000). This sculpture illustrates the magical power attributed to statues in sub-Saharan Africa. Only shamans have the right to touch them, thus ensuring the link between the world of men and the world beyond. This exceptionally preserved copy still retains traces of ritual substances that were impregnated on such objects. It comes from the collection of the Belgian merchant Joseph Christiaens. There is at least one other work by the same master in the Havenon collection. Another remarkable object is a Haida totem pole from British Columbia dating from the 19th century (estimated between €90,000 and €100,000). It is in fact less a totem pole than a crest almost two metres high. Once polychrome, it bears engraved signs evoking family lineages and their prerogatives, in the same spirit as the ceremonial objects of the European nobility. Also noteworthy is the presence of a Bedu Nafana mask from the Bondouko region (Ghana) of imposing dimensions (more than 2 metres high). This one is from Franco Monti’s collection, and was on the cover of the 1967 exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Darmstadt. Directly linked to the rites of the lunar cycles, this rare object is estimated €40,000 to €50,000.

Many original lots will finally be offered at more reasonable prices. This is the case of the Ashanti royal figure of Ghana, all in carved gold (€12,000 to €14,000) or an important 19th century Malangan head (€8-10,000). The public exhibition of the objects at Dorotheum starts on Saturday 1st December from 10am, until the beginning of the session on Tuesday 4 December at 2pm.

Bedu Nafana mask, Ghana, H. 202 cm., Provenance: Franco Monti, Milan, estimate: EUR 40,000 to 50,000