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African arts: fake,expertises and values in black Africa

In primary arts, particularly in the field of African art in which the ratings soar to such stratospheric levals (over 20 000, more than € 100 000 ...), there are unfortunately many fakes. All the ingredients are combined so that the market is flooded with fakes: complex understanding, fashionable products, prices explosions...

Thus, the greatest caution in buying is required especially when you want to acquire objects for more than 3 to 4 000€ and especially for more. Read below what we have written about this subject in "Indications of values ??of African art and advices."

How to distinguish the "real" from "fake" in African art.

The market is flooded with crude fakes sold on fleas, flea markets, unscrupulous websites ... These objects are easily identified by a collector with a little experience:  the forms are imperfect, more or less important details are badly executed,  errors are done, the patina is not as it should be ... the object lacks finesse but more importantly it lacks all these factors that make people say  that an object  lacks "presence", "power" all these qualities which when they are combined  participate to create an aesthetic emotion to the collector.

You will not find such objects of on art africain.fr!

Then there are "fakes" very well done to a point that it is very difficult to distinguishing the "real" from "fake" and requires a lot of experience which develop with time: visit museums, auctions art galleries, discussions with experts, reading books, handling many objects...

A "fake" is an object made by an ethnic group different from the one that created the object at the origin and/or does not meet the aesthetic canons of the object and/or has an inadequate and unsightly patina and/or that just comes from the workshop of an african forger who has more or less roughly executed the object with using modern tools ...

Our expertise in the field of African art and our mastery of the Internet allow us to buy and sell cheap, and offer beautiful pieces, unique and ethnographically interesting, very competitive for less than € 1 500. Beauty, creativity and power are here to create emotion to the person who contemplate the object.

Age and value in African art.

Life and Death of sculptures:

Let us first recall briefly what we have written in chapters "Art and Society" and "Beauty and the Influence of African art on modern art":

* The sculptor is not conscious, most of the time, to make a work of art. He makes an object with a social or religious role.

* Once the mask or the statue has been used, and that people consider it as less effective or worn, or if it has not been satisfactory from the beginning, it is left outside after being desecrated (magical substances are removed). The climate, termites ... quickly corrode the object and make it disappear. Unless this happens at a time when a western is interested by keeping the object so that he picks it up or he buys it.

* During the colonization many objects of worship were destroyed.

* Westerners, including artists became interested in collecting African art since 1905. It was not until 1935 that the intellectual elite (literary arts ...) considered African art as a great art. Africans have begun to realize from 1950’s that their art might interest people considering  the demand of the Western market.

Conclusion: the masks and wooden statues old are rare. An object from 1920 is extremely old. An object of the 1950s is old.

Age is an obvious factor of value, but it's not that simple. This is not the only factor to consider when making a purchase: you can be in contact with an "old" object made for example in 1930, but that is false because it was made to be sold and give satisfaction to the "taste" of white people. Considering this fact, the black sculptor adds details that please to the target market. The collector who has good taste will prefer an authentic object, more recently executed, by example in 1970, fully respectful of the traditions, and that has been used for worship.

A “modern” object can be more interesting if it has been done by a skilled sculptor, respectful of tradition and has been used for an animist recent ritual even with a touristic connotation, than an older object clumsily carved and long used.

An old piece may have value even if it did not "dance" because it respects the traditional aesthetic canons. It will be more valuable than a newer object, performed poorly, although it had been used for worship.

Today it is still possible in "remote" villages in Africa with leaving the beaten tracks to find interesting objects recently performed and used for worship.

Of course, it is always better to buy an object in wood very old, from 1910 for example, which is very successful artistically, which has been used for worship, which gave him a beautiful patina. Seniority can be proved by a true pedigree (picked in 1920 by the doctor x, who worked in the colonies, photographs of this period show him with this object. This object  belonged to prestigious collectors and is also the subject of numerous publications in exhibition catalogs and books ....). But these factors have a price, of course variable, depending on the object, from several thousand € to several millions! (See for example Fang mask Ngil No. 193 sold 5 million € from the sale of the collection Vérité in June 2006 - see: 2.5 million € for the statue Byeri Fang No. 65 sale from the  Collection Pierre Guerre at auction place named Drouot in Paris in June 1996 ...) 

At last the age of an object  is difficult to estimate, it depends on the condition of the wood (more or less old, eroded by its storage conditions, termite attacks or worn by a forger artificially by repeated rubbing, use of acid ...), the patina (accumulated by repeated manipulation of worship or simulated by counterfeiters), the style of the object (like a good sculptor realized them in the past, or on the contrary sloppy done quickly by a craftsman for whom the object does not belong  to his culture ...). Hence the essential  factor to be able to trace the pedigree of the most expensive objects to reinforce what experts think. Reading the catalogs of auctions is instructive in this regard.

There is no scientific method for dating wooden objects from Africa. Indeed from the moment we consider that, apart from very few exceptions, the oldest objects date from the early twentieth century, the carbon-14 dating is not possible. Remind that the carbon-14 dating is operative for old pieces of several hundred years (say from 350 years) to a maximum of 50 000 years and dating costs are expensive : € 1 000 for carbon 14 dating. Reminder: The TL is limited to the dating of ceramic objects and applies to objects for more than 100 years to less than 1 million years.


Scale of values of African art and advices:

A mask or a statue "late" for the specialist but still made ??on site by a sculptor from the same ethnic group as the one who used the objects traditionally and performed for tribal activities worth a thousand Euros. There are remote areas in Africa where animist cults are still practiced.

A work of art old and well made, about 1950, worth at least € 3,000 or around € 5,000. A beautiful Yaure mask that has not "danced", No. 46, cover of catalog, was sold € 3 100 (see, for example: sales at Drouot Ferri of 17/06/2011, with excellent expert Jean Roudillon).

Do not expect to buy something less than € 5 000 in a large gallery in Paris, Brussels or New York ... It is best to acquire the objects from 4 to 5 000 € from a reputable dealer of the profession because the seller would not take the risk to compromise his "storefront" and his reputation. If you ask him a certificate, he will give you one describing the object  but not telling precisely the age. If he has said orally "1910-1920" he will write something not so precise like "begining of XXth century" or "first half of XXth century". The risk that you buy a fake is more limited than with an unknown seller. Do not buy 4-5 € 000 objects in auction unless a renowned expert in African art brings his bail. A rare and ancient object of desire for collectors is not much less than 10 000 Euros and for historical pieces must you be able to spend more than 100 000 Euros ...


Examples of valuations

We have seen before, the age, the value are difficult to estimate in the field of African art.

We believe that the place where the art of expertise, the authentication is done with the more important care and precision are the catalogs of auctions.

Indeed in this case we are not considering only a page with the letter-head of the merchant only known by the seller and the buyer that will be used in case of doubt on the value of the object or as a base estimation for possible resale ...

This is an expertise in the full knowledge of the whole world of art. Anyone can browse the catalog and read the authentication by looking at the possible photo or by visiting the objects at the time of exposure before the sale. If the expert is prudently sparing of adjectives, the object may not sell as well as it could. If the expert is too laudatory, he risks his reputation and may be contradicted and attacked by his peers or experts merchants. On this subject, we propose to read the "Expertises unreliable and bad experts."

Examples of descriptions of objects written by experts on catalogs of auctions, followed by our comments:

* Face mask "tu bodu" Group je (dye). Heavy  wood, glossy black patina, eye brows and mouth painted with clay. The facial with calm features are topped by six curved horns joining together at their end. "Beard" jagged. Yaoure Ivory Coast. 43 cm high. Right cheek with partially eroded with a split. Hammer price: € 4 100.

* Statuette. Heavy wood, brown patina with transparent red. Typical position of ancient sculptures Senufo of the early twentieth century. Ivory Coast, Senufo. 22.5 cm high. Hammer price: € 4 000.

> Comments: Two beautiful objects: 49 and 53 lots for sale at Drouot Ferri in June 2011. No date specified. The expert evokes patina without specifying to what they are due (use: either manipulations by the natives or decorative, so  made by the sculptor). "Typical position of ancient Senufo sculptures from the early twentieth century" does not mean that the object has been made during the early twentieth century, but that it is done in the way of objects were performed at that time. The expert, Jean Roudillon, however capable, remains cautious in its formulations.

* Mask Guny GE DAN Côte d'Ivoire. Wood with dark brown patina, hair, plant fibers. Height 23 cm. Dan mask rider representing a male face with angular features. The lips are fleshy, the philtrum marked under a thin nose, prominent cheekbones. The look is represented by two circular eyes overhung by eyebrows drawing an arch, the high forehead is rounded. On the chin is a false beard made of hair. Attachment holes to fix the mask are at its periphery. Hammer price: € 7 000

> Comments: Very nice mask but as above no mention of age of the object, its possible use for worship. This mask, however, is the lot No. 401 from the sale of the well known collection from Vérité in June 2006 with the experts: Alain de Monbrison and Pierre Amrouche. Two international well known experts.

Conclusion: Auction catalogs do not indicate the age of objects by other terms than the few formulations, "Collected by Mr. X in year xxxx", "Bought by Mr Y in year yyyy", "Presented in the exhibition Z  in area R during year zzzz."


Take no risk with buying on art africain.fr .

Our expertise in the field of African art and mastery of the Internet allow us to buy and sell cheap, and offer beautiful objects of art, unique and ethnographically interesting, very competitive at less than € 1 500. Beauty, creativity and power are present to cause emotion to those who contemplate them.

For African art we challenge anyone to propose items, as beautiful as those we sell, at a cheaper price.


All our African objects are unique works of art. They were made by sculptors with traditional tools, often worn, in remote villages in Africa. These sculptors often follow certain rituals of their ethnicity by making these objects. They carve each object within the formal characteristics related to canonical ethnicity and use of each object. Each object is in the tradition of the ethnic group that has done it and then, starting from the fixed frame defined, each sculptor has the ability to add personal items. This is what makes the difference between an ethnic object tasteless and without any grace and artwork. Our African objects are old (at the scale of Africa: harsh climates, termites and other wood eating insects, abandonment of the object judged as ineffective for magic ...). They date mostly from 1950 to 1970. Sometimes they are more recent and date back about 20 years. We will tell you if it the case. We recall that the dating of African objects is difficult, as the weather, uses, methods of preservation, abandonment can be varied. In auctions or in museums, African objects are not dated, only if knowledge of a serious pedigree that indicates when the part has been collected in Africa and the enumeration of its owners have been known since the respective. Our African art objects are beautiful: we select them with passion and experience.

Our trade policy oriented on customer loyalty, make us to propose price at a very low level and not fall into the traps of some merchants, who authenticate sometimes questionable objects, in order to sell them with a very high profit margin compared to their purchase price. If they find a buyer ...

Internet allows us to practice efficient trade policies and supply.

For example, we buy many objects at good price to European sellers who contact us via our website and targeted advertising campaigns on the web and sell us objects bought by one of their ancestor in Africa.

Our network of "touts' and importers of quality selected patiently for a long time, make it possible for us to find in "remote" villages of Africa  interesting objects, sometimes quite recent, crafted and used for worship.

Of course such a practice requires more effort and expertise than to go to buy directly in workshops in Cameroon where sculptors manufacture quickly, with modern tools, in a clumsy way, objects that are not of their culture and that they try to reproduce with looking at photography. Hence the sloppy objects that are found abundantly in secondhand markets and flea markets in western countries and in Africa near airports or on the websites of unscrupulous sellers. With a little experience it is not difficult to identify them. These merchants also have the nerve to sell common copies of objects which are, when they are authentic, very rare and at stratospheric prices. That are for example: ngil masks or Byeri statues of the Fang or as bronzes from Benin ...

Without false modesty, take the time to visit museums, read books ... and you will find that the objects we sell are more beautiful than most of the horrors that are on the internet or flea markets and we cannot be beaten on price!

Finally, in the last resort, you must not forget that reproductions of the RMN (Réunion des Musées Nationaux: french museum association), immediately identifiable as such, are sold around 600 € when they are in plastic resin and € 1 800 when they are in bronze! So, as we remain at rates below 1 500-2 000 € you can buy a nice well-made art object, you find magnificent , without taking too much financial risk.

Our Guarantee "Money back guarantee" of 15 days makes you immune to any disappointment!

You can also read our article "About us".

Unreliable valuations and bad experts.

The following article has been published by the excellent magazine “Le Journal des Arts” on February the 29th of 2008. It encourages extreme caution when it comes to buying objects "expensive" or that begin to be expensive, for example from the threshold of 3 to 5 000 €.

Valuation-Tajan : argument on a primary arts auction 

Le Journal des Arts - n° 276 - 29 février 2008

By intervening to prevent the sale of disputed objects of primitive art at Tajan at Paris, several experts raise the question of valuation.

PARIS - "It's a shame for the house Tajan," commented a professional coming as an observer on February 19 at the Espace Tajan in Paris to assist to the sale of tribal art that was there. This luxury vacation, prepared with the assistance of the expert Hervé Naudy, should have been for the auction house, a great occasion to communicate on its coming back on tribal art (read the JDA No. 275, February 15, 2008, p . 24). A scenario that has turned into a nightmare. "The consultation of the catalog astonished us," reported four dealers and experts in Paris (Bernard Dulon, Philippe Ratton, Christine Valluet for tribal arts, and Jacques Blazy for pre-Columbian art) in a letter dated February 15, 2008 and addressed to Chairman of the national Union of antique (SNA). They indicate that many collectors asked them their opinion on the authenticity of the objects proposed to be bought. They have therefore examined them on site at the time of exposure. In their letter, on a total of 326 objects proposed to be sold, they identify nearly eighty, which they describe as "fake", "important restoration", "reconstructed", "recent copy", "rough copy" "object of tourism", "contemporary invention" or "late style", statements often accompanied by the comment "misleading estimate" or "fanciful estimate." "We can only underline the seriousness of the situation in which not only comes into play the notion of authenticity, but also the estimated value of each object that must be in accordance with the market prices and in relation to the quality of the object , they conclude ...
Read the article by Armelle Malvoisin on the site of the Journal des Arts