Marceau Rivière and Desmond Morris: two ace art collectors sell up

Some intriguing art is appearing on the market for the first time, says Chris Carter.

953_MW_P35_Collectables

Two fascinating collections have been in the news recently. The first belonged to Marceau Rivire, a French "traveller-collector" and writer of several books. His collection went up for sale at Sotheby's in Paris last week, but it "was never intended to be a collection of masterpieces", says Susan Moore in the Financial Times. Rather, its "integrity and its particular charm lie in being a record of a life spent beguiled by the peoples and material culture of Africa".

Rivire was just eight years old when a missionary arrived in his village in Normandy bearing slides of the Congo. He was "mesmerised", says Moore. Then, aged 11, he kicked off his collection with a Dan/Guere mask, bought from a rag-and-bone man and paid for in instalments from his pocket money. But his collection really got going when he joined the French camel corps in 1957 in Algeria, which was engaged in the collecting of samples for museums in Algiers and Tunis. Later, he worked as an engineer in Chad for an airline. For more than 20 years, he travelled around Africa, forging links with village chiefs and conducting research into indigenous art. In 1981 he opened a small gallery in Paris to house his collection from which 250 items appeared at the Sotheby's sale. Most of the lots had been acquired decades ago and most had never been on the market before.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

The stand-out piece was a moon mask made by the Baule people of the Ivory Coast (pictured above). It sold for €4.7m last week, fetching the third-highest price ever for an African mask. In total, the auction raised €11.5m. Rivire, now 82, referred to the sale as a "remarkable adventure".

The second collection making headlines will appear at Bonhams in London on Wednesday. It belongs to Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape. Following the death of his wife, Ramona, last year, Morris decided to downsize and move to Ireland, and no longer has room for his 11,000 books, artworks and artefacts. In the decades spent since publishing his seminal book on human behaviour published in 1967, the same year in which he began collecting Morris has amassed a world-renowned collection of early Cypriot art, along with Canaanite figurines, Persian pottery (see below) and Iranian Amlash female figures displaying what Morris refers to as steatopygia the pronounced hips and buttocks that may now be better known as "Kardashian syndrome", as Morris told David Sanderson says in The Times. The 91-year-old is selling up as he wants to start a new life. "I have new projects I want to undertake. New areas of study."

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

But he's hanging on to "a few oddities", including the cowrie shell he bought on Christmas Island and a Cypriot terracotta sculpture he acquired in 1967. "I bought it just before The Naked Ape, which took up the little money I had in those days," he tells Sanderson. "I can't let it go."

Two striking lots

953_MW_P35_Collectables_02

A Dan statue of a walking spoon, from the Rivire collection (see above), is "pure joy", says Susan Moore in the Financial Times. It looks like something Walt Disney would have come up with for his 1940 animated film Fantasia, but the concept of a spoon/ladle with legs, known as "megalumia", is far older. Its purpose was ceremonial. Women would compete against one another to be the most generous in distributing food to the community, according to the auction catalogue note. The winner of the contest would be given the spoon and the title of wakede, meaning "queen of the feast" in the Dan language of the Ivory Coast, for her largesse at the table. It fetched €972,500, far surpassing its €600,000 upper estimate.

From the Morris collection, a large Persian pottery bowl (above) from the second to third centuries BC is one of the most striking lots. It is painted on three sides and shows a line of bearded goats and a hunter with a bow and arrow, and what looks like a dog on a leash. "I think this is the earliest depiction of the domestication of the dog," Morris tells Lucinda Bredin in Bonhams magazine. The dog is shown with a lead and collar and he is in competition with a shaggy-coated wolf, which is bristling on the other side of the vase. "It gives us an insight into how these people went hunting with a herding dog and a hunting dog Isn't it astonishing that 6,000 years ago the domestication of the dog was being recorded on this pot?" It is expected to sell for £20,000-£30,000.

Auctions

Going

A signed first-edition copy of The Ascent of Everest is to be sold by Philip Serrell Auctioneers in Malvern, Worcestershire, next month. The book charts the first ascent of the world's highest mountain, which was achieved by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953, the year the book was published. The copy for sale bears their signatures, as well as those of Charles Wylie and Wilfred Noyce, who were also on the expedition, which was led by the book's author, John Hunt. "Tenzing Norgay rarely signed books," Serrell, the auctioneer, tells BBC News. "Sometimes you hold things in this business and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up." It has been valued at up to £1,100.

Gone

953_MW_P35_Auctions

Luca Pacioli's Summa de Arithmetica sold for $1.215m at Christie's in New York earlier this month. The Franciscan friar published the book in Venice in November 1494. It was one of the first on algebra to be published in the West in the vernacular Italian in this case. Summa de Arithmetica also contains a chapter explaining to European merchants the advantages of keeping their books in the new two-column Venetian style, a method that is today known as double-entry book-keeping. The book, one of 2,000 from the first print run, would have cost 119 soldi when hot off the press not cheap, but not beyond the means of a wealthy Italian merchant.

Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/514982/alternative-investments-three-hidden-gems-beyond-stocks-and-bonds
Share tips

Alternative investments: three hidden gems beyond stocks and bonds

Alternative investments such as private equity or commodities are one of the oldest forms of investment, says professional investor Alex Barr. Here. h…
16 Sep 2019
Visit/investments/alternative-investments/600683/the-68-trillion-inheritance
Alternative investments

The $68 trillion inheritance

A very valuable torch is being passed to a new generation, says Chris Carter
24 Jan 2020
Visit/520372/the-art-market-endures-after-a-jittery-2019
Alternative investments

The art market endures after a jittery 2019

Wealthy Americans stepped up to help calm the art market's jitters in 2019. Chris Carter reports.
10 Jan 2020
Visit/518765/a-bargain-hunters-paradise
Alternative investments

Today's art markets are a paradise for bargain hunters

Now is an ideal time for collectors to go shopping at the art auctions. 
29 Nov 2019

Most Popular

Visit/investments/stocks-and-shares/600863/sirius-minerals-anglo-american-takeover
Stocks and shares

Do you own shares in Sirius Minerals? Here’s what you need to do now

Mining giant Anglo American has proposed a cash takeover of Yorkshire-based minnow Sirius Minerals. Unhappy shareholders must decide whether to accept…
20 Feb 2020
Visit/investments/commodities/gold/600874/gold-is-at-its-highest-level-in-years-heres-how-to-invest
Gold

Gold is at its highest level in years – here’s how to invest

Gold's rise at a time when the dollar is unnervingly strong isn't unheard of – but it is curious. John Stepek explains what's going on, and what it me…
21 Feb 2020
Visit/economy/uk-economy/600862/britains-economy-might-spring-a-surprise-on-the-doomsayers-this-year
UK Economy

Britain’s economy might spring a surprise on the doomsayers this year

The UK economy is looking pretty good – we’re more at risk of a boom than a bust, says John Stepek. Here’s why, and what it means for your portfolio.
20 Feb 2020
Visit/517625/tr-european-growth-trust-why-investors-shouldnt-overlook-europe
Sponsored

Why investors shouldn’t overlook Europe

SPONSORED CONTENT - Ollie Beckett, manager of the TR European Growth Trust, tackles investor questions around Europe’s economic outlook and the conseq…
6 Nov 2019