To travel gloriously
“What is the good of moving when a man can travel so gloriously sitting in a chair?” The great decadent writer Joris-Karl Huysmans offers a good description of the state of immobility conducive to savouring one’s surroundings, in a world of ultra-refinement like in his famous novel “A rebours”, published in 1884.
In a similar spirit – only far less extreme – there was a jewellery collector and dealer who lived in Paris called Michel Périnet.
He developed a very carefully constructed aesthetic universe. His art deco furniture was designed by Ruhlmann and his lacquer by Dunand. He possessed an extraordinary armchair by Eileen Gray made in around 1917, which he gave to the Yves Saint Laurent. Following the latter’s death, at the sale of the collections belonging to the couturier and his partner Pierre Bergé in 2009, the chair sold for the extraordinary price of 21.9 million euros.
“Michel Périnet lived a life divided into three parts: his store, his house, Rue des Saint Pères and Hôtel Drouot,” explains the dealer of African art based in Paris and London, Lance Entwistle.
There was a time when he collected painters from the Pont-Aven school and was passionate about the paintings of the surrealist and Dada artist Francis Picabia, whose widow was his neighbour. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that he discovered the joys of tribal art. This would become a passion he would pursue until the dawn of the new century.
3 experts for 1 collection
He died on 13 January 2020 at the age of 89, but through his will he had planned how his collection would be dispersed. He tasked the former CEO of Christie’s France, François de Ricqlès, with orchestrating the operation in collaboration with no less than three specialist dealers who acted as experts, Alain de Montbrison, Bernard Dulon and Lance Entwistle.
The field of tribal art has the specific attribute of limited production, mainly comprising objects fabricated between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries, and it caters to a small circle of aficionados across the world. It’s worth knowing that the majority of the ritual objects made by African tribes were buried, burned, or even destroyed. As for the prices involved in the trade of African and Oceanic art, they are generally lower than those of Western art.
Western/ tribal art
We talk about 450 million dollars for an overly restored Leonardo da Vinci painting, an absolute auction record set in 2017 at Christie’s, whilst the record for tribal art was set in 2014 at Sotheby’s with the sale of a female Debele statue from the Côte d’Ivoire or Burkina Faso for 12 million dollars. Although rumour has it that there’s been a recent sale of an African artwork for a far greater sum in a private transaction.
On 23 June 2021 Christie’s will be auctioning the Périnet collection, composed of 61 lots, an ensemble which – it is generally agreed – is extremely rare. According to François de Ricqlès, the collector consistently raised the standard of the ensemble by reselling certain pieces to acquire better ones.
Lance Entwistle adds: “auctions tend to feature high quality pieces and others that are of more average quality. Here the overall standard is very high.” Bernard Dulon also quotes Sacha Guitry: “he used to talk about two kinds of collectors, the closet collectors who don’t loan pieces and don’t reveal much about their collections, and the showcase collectors who don’t hesitate to put them on display. Michel Périnet belonged to the first category. He was selective, he didn’t accumulate, and it became an exercise of personal delectation.”
From 2000 to 2M euros
The estimates range from 2000 euros for a mysterious elongated stone head which could be according to experts from Mali, the Côte d’Ivoire or also Papua New Guinea as well as the Sahara, right up to 2 million euros for the star of the sale: a Fang head from Gabon.
From the Vlaminck collection
Made from a very hard wood similar to ebony, the completely round and highly polished face resembles metal. It belonged to the artist Maurice de Vlaminck, who was more of a trailblazer in the collection of tribal art than in his own painting practice, except for during a very short period. Vlaminck, along with the activists from what were known as the fauvists, was interested in this kind of art and collected it from 1906.
Grandeur and immobility
He wrote that African art inspires an “impression of grandeur and immobility”. Made up of curves and refined lines, this figure, originally placed on top of a reliquary, had been “hidden” in the Périnet collection since 1983.
From Paul Guillaume and Jacques Doucet
In the field of tribal art, provenance plays a key role in determining value. The historic figure of Vlaminck as a collector contributes to this high estimate. This is also true of a Kota mask from Gabon, estimated at 300,000 euros, which comes from the collection belonging to the modern art dealer Paul Guillaume (1891-1934), who himself had sold it to the couturier and great collector Jacques Doucet. It was in 1972, at the sale of the latter’s estate at Drouot, that Michel Périnet acquired it. One part of the helmet-shaped mask is white, while the other is reddish, divided by the form of a nose in relief.
From Helena Rubinstein
From the 1910s, the American businesswoman Helena Rubinstein, who made her fortune in cosmetics, nourished her passion for tribal art with the help of the English painter Jacob Epstein. The collection she amassed was put up for auction when she died in 1966. She had a Dan mask from the Côte d’Ivoire in a concave shape that was acquired by Michel Périnet and will be presented on 23 June with an estimate of 200,000 euros. A remarkable attempt to reconstruct her collection was on show at the Musée du Quai Branly in 2020 (See the report here). There, we also saw a very rare large Fang mask from Gabon from the Ngil society, intended for secret rites.
The Périnet collection also features a work of this type, recognizable from its oblong shape and lines that are convex at the forehead and concave at the eyes. It has an estimate of 700,000 euros and comes from yet another famous collection belonging to the Marseille lawyer Pierre Guerre, which sold at Drouot in 1996.
Avalanche of pedigrees
This avalanche of pedigrees is excellent reassurance when we take into account the fear of fakes that is torpedoing the tribal art sector. The Périnet sale has arrived, according to experts, as a test to take the temperature of the market.
We know, however, that it is a very elitist area where demand remains – come hell or high water (or viruses) –particularly strong for the exceptional pieces.
Lance Entwistle also notes that the biggest sale of his career took place during lockdown for an African object.
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