Mert Simpson Auction
leopard standing on all fours with teeth bared, Nigeria, Benin, 19th century,
$2,000-$4,000. All images courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries.
The Fall 2016 Mert Simpson Estate Auction happening this
weekend at Quinn’s
Auction Galleries Falls
Church, VA 22046
The Simpson Benin plaque to be offered by Quinn’s Auction
Galleries of Falls Church, Virginia on October 1. It is estimated at
$800,000-$1.2m. | A 1898 British Museum photo of the bronze. | An X-ray
that forms part of a forensic report undertaken by Mark Rasmussen of
FALLS CHURCH, VA.-
A 16th-century bronze plaque recovered in 1897 from the charred ruins of
the Benin Kingdom’s Royal Palace (Benin City, Nigeria) leads the Oct.
1 auction of the late Merton D. Simpson’s private collection. Quinn’s
Auction Galleries in Falls Church, Virginia (metro Washington,
D.C.), will conduct the Oct. 1 sale, which includes artworks and rare
African relics from the renowned tribal art expert’s personal
collection, his Manhattan gallery, and some of his own paintings.
The plaque was one of 304 examples brought to the UK by Ralph Moor in
1897 following the Benin Expedition. Once having adorned wooden gallery
roof supports around a large reception courtyard in the palace, the
remarkable artworks were displayed later that year at The British
Museum. Following the exhibition, the Museum acquired (as a gift from
the British government) 203 plaques from the collection. The remaining
101 plaques were sold to British and Continental museums; and private
The plaque from the Simpson collection is numbered 192 on the 1898
Foreign Office list pertaining to the group acquisition. It remained a
part of the institution’s collection until 1950, when the Museum
de-accessioned some of its plaques.
It is believed that Merton Simpson, who began collecting African
artifacts in the 1950s, may have acquired his plaque through a European
dealer, as the object appears to have been expertly restored to European
standards at some point in time.
The object measures 48.58 cm by 33.18 cm and is adorned with the single
figure of an elaborately garbed warrior chief holding an eben – or
ceremonial dance sword – indicating his participation in a palace
ceremony. Other embellishments include a longhaired Portuguese man in
profile, two crocodile heads and rosettes.
The plaque has been authenticated by prominent ancient art expert John
A. Buxton, ISA CAPP, whom Quinn’s enlisted to oversee and supervise
the Simpson auction; and Kathy Curnow, PhD and Associate Professor,
African Art History, Cleveland State University. It also has undergone a
rigorous forensic examination by Mark Rasmussen of Rare Collections, a
respected firm that provides scientific investigation and research
services to leading museums and private collectors here and abroad.
Quinn’s conducted an exhaustive search of all relevant art loss
registries, including those of INTERPOL and other international sources,
to confirm the plaque’s lawful status. It is similar to an example in
the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and was previously
part of the institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It is
entered in the auction with an $800,000-$1.2 million estimate.
The plaque remained part of the BM’s collection until 1950, when some
of the plaques were deaccessioned.
It is believed that Simpson, an African-American who began collecting
in the 1950s, acquired it through a European dealer. A professional
forensic examination suggests it was restored in the 20th century.
Quinn’s were chosen by New York state officials to sell the plaque
and other elements of the Simpson collection after a family dispute over
the estate. In response to the political sensitivities surrounding Benin
works of art, Quinn’s have taken steps to confirm the plaque’s
Other top highlights include a horned plank Bedu mask with checkerboard
design, Ivory Coast/Ghana, first half of 20th century, est.
$10,000-$15,000; and a 15th to 17th-century seated clay figure from a
cache uncovered in the 1980s in Mali, Niger Delta, est. $10,000-$15,000.
It is believed that all of the figures from the Mali discovery now
reside in non-U.S. museums or private collections, making Merton
Simpson’s example all the more desirable.
Also estimated at $10,000-$15,000, a 20th-century Pwo mask from the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chokwe culture, depicts a female with
an elaborate fiber coiffure. Another wood mask from the Congo exhibits
the type of composition and decorative style favored by the Teke people,
late 19th to early 20th century. Its character’s oval-shape eyes are
outlined in blue pigment. That, combined with its abstractly interpreted
features, suggests the mask was likely produced by the Tsai group of the
Teke tribe. Estimate: $10,000-$15,000.
A 20th-century night mask created by the Bacham culture of the Republic
of Cameroon is similar to an example sold in Christie’s Amsterdam’s
July 2, 2002 auction of tribal art from the Estate of Baron Freddy Rolin.
Quinn’s has set an auction estimate of $5,000-$10,000.
The Ejagham people are best known for their large, skin-covered,
headdress-style crest masks that often have one or more faces of known
or imagined individuals. The Simpson collection includes a skin-covered
headdress with curled horns from the Ejagham of Nigeria. A 20th-century
piece, it could realize $3,000-$5,000.
With an acclaimed eye for spotting exceptional art and a career as an
art dealer that spanned more than 50 years, Merton D. Simpson (African-American,
1928-2013) was one of the world’s most respected African and tribal
art dealers. He was instrumental in helping individuals and institutions
around the world to build comprehensive, historically significant
collections. He was also a gifted artist in his own right and an early
member of the Spiral group, a collective of African-American artists
co-founded in 1963 by Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff and other notables.
“For the New York County Public Administrator – fiduciary of the
Simpson estate – to have chosen Quinn’s to auction this important
collection was a tremendous honor for us. But the collection will also
be taking its place in history, and rightly so, when it is sold during
the opening week of the new National Museum of African American History
& Culture, here in the Washington, D.C. metro area,” said
Quinn’s Executive Vice President Matthew Quinn. “We couldn’t be
The Saturday, Oct. 1 auction will take place at Quinn’s Auction
Galleries at 360 S. Washington St., Falls Church, VA 22046, starting at
11 a.m. Eastern time (doors open at 9 a.m). Those who cannot attend in
person may bid absentee, by phone or live online ( links below) . Items
may be previewed at the gallery Sept. 26-29 2016 inclusive, from
10-5:30; or from 9-11 a.m. on auction day.
For additional information on any item, call 703-532-5632.
October 1, 2016 11:00am
Join this important one-day auction featuring ethnographic art encompassing
Pre-Columbian, African / Tribal, Oceanic, and so much more! Session 1
features the Estate of Merton Simpson collection. Session 2 focuses on
multi-estate ethnographic collectors. Simpson assembled a memorable
collection of African art with notable pieces that include a 16th century
Benin plaque, a Niger Delta seated figure c.15th – 17th century, a Kuba
Bwoom mask, an Eket round face mask, and more.
Links are here…
Buyers Premium – Absentee Bidding Only
Buyers Premium – Live and Absentee Bidding
Buyers Premium – Live and Absentee Bidding
sale is also be posted on BidSquare.com :
David “Benin” Norden