Why Michel Périnet’s Collection of Tribal Art Resonates Across Cultures 

Overview of some tribal art pieces from Michel Périnet’s collection. Courtesy of Christie’s Paris.
Masque Luba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, height: 51 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s Paris.
Tête Fang, Gabon, height: 35cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s Paris.
Statue Dogon-Nongom, Mali, height: 61cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s Paris.
Masque-Heaume Kota, Gabon, Socle de Kichizô Inagaki, height: 41.5 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s Paris.
Michel Périnet. Courtesy of Christie’s Paris.
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Asia Society Hong Kong

Christie’s Paris upcoming auction on 23 June presents traditional, indigenous art objects collected by the late French dealer Michel Périnet. The artistic impact and spirituality of the pieces speak to the collection’s universal appeal.

 

TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of Christie’s Paris

One of the most highly anticipated sales of this year, the rare and private collection of African, Oceanic and Native American art belonging to the late French jeweller, gallerist and collector Michel Périnet is set to go on auction at Christie’s Paris on 23 June.

Estimated to fetch between €17 million and €23 million and featuring 61 pieces mostly dated to the 19th century, the collection spans Western and Central Africa to Easter Island, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Art dealers Alain de Monbrison, Lance Entwistle, Bernard Dulon and François de Ricqlès, former President of Christie’s France who stepped down in June 2019 to start his own art advisory business, are overseeing the sale alongside Christie’s. Prior to his passing in January 2020, Périnet had entrusted the sale of the collection to his four colleagues.

 

Overview of some tribal art pieces from Michel Périnet’s collection. Courtesy of Christie’s Paris.
Masque Luba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, height: 51 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s Paris.

 

Entwistle, considered a leading tribal art dealer for over four decades, believes the collection resonates with a specific depth and universality that transcends geography. “African and Oceanic works are all imbued with a deep spirituality and are central to the religious and social life of the peoples who created them. The same is true of the great sculptural traditions of China, Japan, Cambodia and Thailand,” he said in an email to CoBo Social.

While hard-pressed to pick a personal favourite, Entwistle did highlight the Luba Mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo estimated at €1.5 to €2 million. “In African and Oceanic art, the role of masks is a cornerstone of culture and ritual life, unlike in many other cultures where it has only a minor role. This particular mask, which is the only one of its type in private hands, combines powerful emotional content with superb design and monumental scale,” he described.

Other key lots from the sale include a 19th century Fang head from Gabon, estimated at €2 to €3 million with a strong provenance—its first recorded owner was the Fauve artist Maurice de Vlaminck. The auction also features a rare older piece, a Dogon-Nongom figure from Mali dating back to the 11th century, according to Christie’s Paris, and estimated at €150,000 to €250,000.

 

Tête Fang, Gabon, height: 35cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s Paris.
Statue Dogon-Nongom, Mali, height: 61cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s Paris.
Masque-Heaume Kota, Gabon, Socle de Kichizô Inagaki, height: 41.5 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s Paris.

 

This rare and culturally diverse collection began on a fateful day in London in 1967. On a trip to buy jewellery, Périnet came across a Kota sculpture from Gabon and instantly fell in love: “I didn’t choose the object: it chose me,” he had once said of that moment.

From that day onwards, Périnet read every book he could get his hands on about the indigenous cultures of Africa, Oceania, the Native Americans, Inuit art, and more. He put in more than a fair bit of effort, exhaustively searching for exceptional pieces, comparing, consulting with specialists, and even buying and selling to buy more. Be it a Dogon maternity figure or a sculpture from the Marquesas Islands, his enthusiasm was unparalleled.

Perhaps an indication of his cultural sensitivity, Périnet never bargained and always purchased an object at the price it would cost in two years. Entwistle also shared that as a dealer Périnet knew how important it was to develop relationships with trustworthy suppliers. Even though he trusted his own eye, “he also knew he must rely on highly qualified sources in the realms of authenticity and value.”

 

Michel Périnet. Courtesy of Christie’s Paris.

 

While this is a promising sign, concerns about authenticity and ownership are becoming increasingly exigent in the market, given recent developments such as the United States returning looted antiquities worth US$3.8 million to Cambodia, following investigations of disgraced dealers Subhash Kapoor and Nancy Wiener, and Bonhams Paris withdrawing five gilded bronze Nepalese figures from an online auction of Himalayan and Buddhist art after they were identified as stolen from a Kathmandu royal palace temple gate.

Addressing these issues, Christie’s Paris said that provenance of the Périnet collection on sale has been thoroughly investigated and verified, enabling the auction house to “precisely reconstruct the path and life of each of these artworks.” They also produced a catalogue containing information about the extensive research undertaken to establish the history and provenance of each work.

Caution is necessary, especially since tribal art, a typically niche world, is broadening internationally, inviting buyers with a “more cross-category mindset.” Young collectors in Asia are particularly curious about the beginnings of Western Avant-Garde, and French artists of that time were influenced by classical works of African and Oceania, opening this field to a while new range of collecting enthusiasts.

Nonetheless, the intrinsic value of many of the traditional art objects from the Périnet collection speak for themselves, taking on the role of articulate cultural ambassadors and providing a raw, almost mystic, visual introduction to the diverse beginnings of art.

 

 

Collection Michel Périnet
23 June 4:00pm CEST
Christie’s Paris

 

 

 
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