“There’s nothing left. [We’re selling the] whole collection. It’s time for new people to live with those works. Where the small, oily, kneeing Dogon figure will go, no one knows but someone will be lucky to live with it.”
Alexis Maggiar, International Director of African and Oceanic Art, explains how Thursday 20 October will see Christie’s Paris disperse the last remaining artworks from the collection of Béatrice and Patrick Caput (part of the collection was sold at the 7 June 1998 Francois de Ricqlès sale and on November 15, 2018, at Binoche & Giquello). Twenty-seven works of classic African art will be up for sale in what some expect to be the classic African art sale of 2022. Will it mimic the success of the 2021 ‘Collection Michel Périnet’ sale? We have just two more days to wait and see.
‘‘A collector has a role of transmission.’’
Paris is now the capital of the African art market and it was, in part, thanks to one man… Patrick Caput.
A collecting career that spans more than fifty years, Béatrice and Patrick Caput accumulated over 100 works of classic African art. Describing the genesis of Patrick’s love of African art in the auction catalogue, dealer Bernard Dulon shared that “in the 1960s, [Patrick’s] professional orientation led him to travel around the Continent… First in Nigeria, then in Gabon.”
The son of a doctor — who was also an avid collector — Patrick Caput fell in love with Africa during his trips. His time on the Continent gave him an understanding and appreciation of the cultures of the many ethnic groups he lived with. Living on the Continent also ignited a love for the arts of Africa, a love that spurred him on to build a collection.
He started collecting in the seventies and searched the galleries of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Brussels, and New York for pieces, usually ancient works. Alexis shares that “some of the jewels of the collection were added in the nineties but [Patrick] was still buying as recently as six years ago at auctions, for example, the Bamileke figure (est. €250,000 – €350,000) he acquired [in 14 December 2016] from ‘the other auction house,’ or the Bamana mask (est. €100,000 – €150,000) that he’d been looking for his whole life [bought at the Binoche et Giquello ‘Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie’ Paris auction in 21 March 2018 for €164,080]. Each piece was a journey of Bamana art until this apex.”
In the 2000s, Patrick left his career to focus fully on classic African art. In a market that was at one time dominated by London and New York, he was a key figure instrumental in making Paris the centre — as senior international consultant, he built the Sotheby’s African and Oceanic art department in Paris.
Reminiscing about their first encounter at Sotheby’s, Alexis shared that he met Patrick in 2007. “When I arrived at ‘the other auction house’, [Patrick] was there with Marguerite de Sabran — he was a figure in the market! When both auction houses were eventually allowed to sell in France, they were in charge of opening the department and he was key in [driving up] the visibility of the African and Oceanic market in Paris. He was able to build sales as Loudmer had done in the past. He sold some fantastic works and wonderful collections and achieved amazing auction records… he brought many international collections to Paris.”
“I grew close to him, grew with him. He was always willing to share his knowledge and collection with me. Ten years later, I rediscovered his collection when he published the book [‘African Art. Portraits of a Collection’] with Bernard Dulon. He didn’t open his door to a lot of people, he was very discreet, very secretive. For me, when he thought about selling his collection, when he entrusted the sale to Christie’s and relied on my guidance about estimates, strategy, and visibility, it was such a privilege and so emotional. Success is compulsory.”
Béatrice and Patrick Caput are said to have had very specific criteria when selecting an item to join their collection — it had to be ancient, to have had a story. Pivoting to the art itself, we asked Alexis why this auction is worth paying attention to and to describe the standout lots in the sale.
In the sale are ancient works of art including a Kusu ancestor figure (est. €250,000 – €350,000), a weathered Mahafaly aloalo figure (est. €20,000 – €30,000), a Chokwe khunia sceptre first acquired in Europe by Charles Ratton before the 1930s (est. €80,000 – €120,000), a Bamileke figure collected in situ by Theodor Von Heigelin between 1904-1918 (est. €250,000 – €350,000), and a Dogon-N’duléri maternity figure estimated to have been created between the 18th and 19th century (est. €500.000 – €700.000).
“Every work is unique,” explains Alexis. “By patina, by provenance, by size, everything is special in this collection… but for me, you have one icon — the Luba kipona throne (est. €500,000 – €700,000). I’ve never seen such a delicate piece; the face, the profile. The way the artist sculptured the hands and how the seat above appears to float above the hands, the shoulders… every curve is just magnificent. I knew it from books and seeing it in person was just a dream for me… The Dan Kran mask is a jewel too in terms of its power, asymmetry and cubism.”
An ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA favourite is the crusty Bamileke mu po figure (est. €70,000 – €100,000). When asked if the estimate for the lot was too high (the auction record for a mu po is $87,500 (€78,000) for the figure sold in the ‘African Art from the Sidney and Bernice Clyman’ Sotheby’s auction in June 2020), Alexis responded; “I haven’t seen such a mu po of this quality available. If it was another typology of work, the estimate could have been even higher… our role is to push some areas or some works outside the classical price range of the works. Why is a beautiful Kota easily at 150 and a beautiful mu po will not be at the same level? I have never seen such a beautiful one offered on the market.”
“The shelves are now silent.”
All remaining works from the Caput collection go on sale on Thursday.
Concluding about how best to participate in the auction, Alexis shares that potential bidders should “come during the auction. We have fewer and fewer people today in the auction room but it’s fantastic to be present. I would not recommend being alone on the computer if you don’t have auction experience.”