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African art goes on sale in Paris and Marrakech

Paula Rösler jt
December 29, 2017

From Orientalism to colonialism and independence, the double auction draws on 120 years of African art, with more than 70 works up for bidding.

Afrikanische Kunst - Paris-Marrakech Teil 2 - Jacques Majorelle
Image: Artcurial

The French artist Jacques Majorelle was born in 1886 in Nancy and died in 1962 in Paris, but the most productive period of his life were the three decades he spent in voluntary exile in Marrakech.

Although his artworks, depicting scenes from Moroccan everyday life, markets, folk festivals and rituals, were forgotten after his death, they have become very popular over the last decade. The renewed interest culminated at a small, special exhibition at the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakech (mYSLm) this October.

It was the famous fashion designer who bought Majorelle's deserted estate "Jardin Majorelle" in the former Moroccan capital in 1980, restored it and turned it into a visitor attraction.

After his death, Yves Saint Laurent had his ashes scattered in the gardens.

Colors and shapes of North Africa

Eleven of Majorelle's paintings are part of the double auction "Majorelle and his contemporaries" and "African Spirit" taking place simultaneously on December 30 in Paris and Marrakech.

Organized by the French auction house Artcurial, the sale includes two of his most famous paintings: "Le marché aux dattes" (The Date Market), created between 1940 and 1945, and "Les Allamattes," which renders a scene from a folk festival where women from Marrakech carry life-size dolls through the streets to pay homage to the Pasha of Marrakech.

Both canvases are estimated to sell for 200,000 to 300,000 euros. ($239,000-358,000)

In contrast to Majorelle's works, the canvases by European artists and Orientalists of the late 19th century are full of colonial influence and romanticizing realism.

For instance, a painting by Rudolf Ernst shows two men playing cards in the courtyard of a traditional house in Riyadh. It has an estimated value of 220,000 to 320,000 euros ($263,000-382,000). A work by Eugène Girardet depicts a caravan in the desert (100,000 to 150,000 euros, or $119,000-179,000) and a picture by Étienne Dinet portrays two women applying traditional charcoal eyeliner (280,000 to 380,000 euros, or $334,000-453,000).

Art from Mali and Congo

Postcolonial art from Africa is the focus of the second part of the auction.

A picture "Nuit de Noël (Happy Club)," showing the bewitching togetherness of a dancing couple by the Malian photographer Malick Sidibé, is offered at an estimated price of 15,000 to 20,000 euros ($17,800-23,900).

The picture "L'homme qui mange de la peinture" ("The man who eats paint," 2005) by the Congolese artist Chéri Samba is estimated to sell for 40,000 to 50,000 euros ($47,700-59,700).  

The double auction "Paris#Marrakech" takes place in Paris and Marrakech on Saturday, December 30, 2017.