Newly converted to an online-only format, Sotheby’s sixth sale of Modern & Contemporary African Art realized £2,359,375 / $2,881,741, featuring over 100 works from 58 artists across 21 countries. The auction saw a 46% increase in the number of bidders in comparison to the equivalent sale last year.
The auction was led by Irma Stern’s rich and colorful Grape Packer (Lot 85) from 1959, which realized £435,000 / $531,309 – well within-the pre-sale estimate of £350,000-550,000. The timeless painting is a seminal example of the South African artist’s mature works from the 1950s and early sixties, and her increasing focus on laborers as subjects. Across the auction, six works by female artists accounted for 41% of the total value of the sale.
In their debut appearances in an international auction, records were established for Tanzanian artist Elias Jengo’s Wakulima (The Farmers) (Lot 69: £5,250/$6,412) and Nigerian artist Shina Yussuff’s Royal Welcome (Lot 21: £5,000 / $6,107). Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso also broke his previous record twice when two photographs from his ‘Tati’ series (Lot 11: £21,250 / £$25,955 & Lot 12: £20,000 / $24,428) soared above their high estimates. Influenced by Mozambican art and Portuguese modernism, a further record was set for Bertina Lopes’ elegant ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (Lot 78: £8,125 / $9,924). Elsewhere in the sale, 13 bids were placed on a painting by Zimbabwean artist Richard Mudariki (Lot 103: £6,875 / $8,397) – most known for his satirical use of iconic figures and symbols – breaking his previous auction record.
Forming the cover lot of this season’s sale catalog, a radiant early painting by Nigerian master Ben Enwonwu, Sefi (Lot 13) brought a regal £250,000 / $305,350 in its auction debut. Until recently, the enigmatic sitter had been known only as the ‘Nigerian Princess’ but, upon close examination, Sotheby’s specialists noticed intricate details which lead them to believe the sitter could be Princess Judith Safinet ‘Sefi’ Atta. The artist’s bronze sculpture, Afi Ekong (Lot 14), which depicts one of Nigeria’s most famous female artists, and who at the time was married to Sefi’s brother, also achieved £125,000 / $152,675.
Young star Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga proved once again that he is one to watch when Ko Bungisa Mbala Mibale 2 (Lot 5) sold for £62,500 / $76,338, and Ko Bungisa Mbala Mibale 3 (Lot 6) achieved £43,750 / $53,436. First offered in the inaugural Modern & Contemporary African sale in 2017, Sotheby’s now holds the top eight prices for the artist at auction.
Credited as one of the pioneers of contemporary art in Morocco, 34 bids were placed across three works by Hassan El Glaoui, which all sold above their high estimates to achieve a combined total of £113,750 / $138,934 (Lots 57, 58 & 60). Featuring the military horses, camels, and riders for which he is famed, the paintings are a powerful celebration of his homeland.