Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fall 2016 Mert Simpson Estate Auction - Saturday October 1st

Date of Release: Sept. 18, 2016

Quinn’s Oct. 1 auction  showcases personal tribal art collection of noted expert, artist and NYC gallerist Merton D. Simpson

16th-century Benin palace plaque, ex British Museum, is premier artifact from estate collection – auction estimate: $800,000-$1.2 million

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 collectors.

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 previously was part of the institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It is entered in the auction with an $800,000-$1.2 million estimate.

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 more proud.”

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 via, or Items may be previewed at the gallery Sept. 23-24, and Sept. 26-29 inclusive, from 10-5:30; or from 9-11 a.m. on auction day. The gallery will be closed on Sunday, Sept. 25.

For additional information on any item, call 703-532-5632. Visit Quinn’s online at


All images courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries

Simpson Estate Auction October 1st - Bidding Information


20% Buyers Premium - Absentee Bidding Only

25% Buyers Premium - Live and Absentee Bidding

25% Buyers Premium - Live and Absentee Bidding

25% Buyers Premium - Live and Absentee Bidding

There are no reserves other than the starting bid of one half the low estimates. All lots failing to meet one half the low estimate will be re-offered at a later sale.

Contact John Buxton at 214-789-4695  for further inquiries


Antique Trader:


Quinn's Auction House

My Word Fall 2016

On Saturday October 1st the the first group of objects from the Merton D. Simpson estate will be sold at Quinn's Auction Falls Church Virginia. This sale will include the best of an inventory that included over 1500 objects. Contrary to the tribal art world in New York the inventory had not been totally "picked over". Many will be surprised to see a documented Punitive Expedition plaque that could sell into the seven figures. We expect to have over 600 lots which will also feature important private collections from New York and Springfield Missouri. Both Mark Rasmussen and I will be in Falls Church for the preview days prior to the sale. If you have any questions or need help with bidding contact Quinn's at (703) 532-5632 or me on my cell at 214-789-4695.

In this issue we also cover the US government's latest effort to  Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP). Unfortunately, the well meaning people  who are supporting this understand less about the actual situation on the ground than those individuals who will be hurt the most by this legislature. Jim Own very graciously allowed us to reprint his rebuttals for your background information. In addition I greatly respect the Committee for Cultural Policy. and their efforts to carefully analyze and then educate us all on what is happening in the field on STOP and other important issues.

Well into the new year my efforts will be directed toward auctions and their ability to reach buyers in a way that a gallery cannot do in a cost effective way. Note in this issue that Sothebys admitted that only 3.5% of their sales were online. In the coming year there will be a greater scramble for Internet dollars in online sales. A number of new auction companies are trying to find the answer to solving this problem of raising lot value returns to create confidence in both buyers and sellers in this environment. Like social media, online art participation is more now a matter of creating a solid foundation and positioning your company to reap the benefits as the markets change.JB

Art Testing and Analysis Fall 2016

1. PARIS (AFP).- Researchers used super-X-ray vision to peer beneath the surface of a portrait by impressionist Edgar Degas and gaze upon the model whose likeness he painted over nearly 140 years ago, they reported Thursday.
The woman, whose image Degas turned upside down before using it as a base for a new painting, was probably Emma Dobigny -- a favourite model of 19th century French artists, the team announced. "This has been a very exciting discovery," said David Thurrowgood, conservator at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, where the painting hangs. "It is not every day that a new Degas painting is found, in this case, hidden in front of us."  The existence of the "underpainting" has been known since about 1920. A vague, ghostly figure has been slowly emerging, spreading an increasingly dark stain over the face of the model that replaced her. But previous attempts to glean something about the jilted original yielded little more than a faint outline. The hidden image "has long been considered to be indecipherable" without damaging the surface painting, the research team wrote in the journal Scientific Reports. Enter the Australian Synchrotron in Victoria, a particle accelerator which generates radiation for high-resolution imaging in research, therapy, or forensic analysis. The light it produces "is a million times brighter than the Sun, many orders of magnitude greater in power and intensity compared to standard, hospital-like X-rays," synchrotron scientist and study co-author Daryl Howard told AFP. "Because of the brilliant light, we are able to reveal unprecedented structural detail of any material". Well, hello there! Using a technique called X-ray fluorescence, the team became the first people since Degas to gaze upon his model's face. Comparing the image to other paintings, they concluded it was likely "a previously unknown portrait of the model Emma Dobigny."  Dobigny, whose real name was Marie Emma Thuilleux, modelled for Degas in 1869 and 1870 when she was about 16. "We observe (a) strong resemblance between the revealed underpainting and several of Degas' portraits of Emma Dobigny," wrote the study authors. According to former Louvre Museum director Henri Loyrette, a recognised Degas expert, "it is entirely possible" that the face belongs to Dobigny. The name of the black-clad woman who supplanted her on the canvas, however, remains unknown.  Her portrait -- which dates to a few years after the original, about 1876-1880 -- is entitled simply "Portrait de Femme" (Portrait of a Woman). Degas had not applied a new basecoat, and used thin layers of oil-based paint which are now losing their "hiding power", said the authors, allowing Dobigny to start showing through. The researchers used the synchrotron to create eleven "maps" of the original canvas -- each of a different metallic element in the pigments Degas used, including arsenic, copper, zinc, cobalt, and mercury.
The process took about 33 hours. Put together, the elemental maps provide a detailed reconstitution, revealing even the artist's brush strokes. The colours, however, have to be inferred. Cobalt is probably present as a blue pigment, which is useful in defining flesh tones," wrote the team, while "mercury is predominant in the facial area and would most likely correspond to the red pigment vermillion, which would contribute to a pink flesh tone." A blurred section in Dobigny's hair suggests Degas had made several attempts at reshaping an overly pointy, pixie-shaped ear -- a quirk he was apparently known for at the time. "Concealed paintings, early compositions that have been hidden by subsequent work, are important insights into artworks and artists," wrote the team. In this case, comparing two portraits painted several years apart, showed Degas' "transformation of palette and technique."
The researchers said they knew of no other method that would have worked as well as synchrotron scanning, which was also used in 2008 to reveal the portrait of a peasant woman underneath Vincent van Gogh's "Patch of Grass". The technology "will significantly impact the ways cultural heritage is studied for authentication, preservation and scholarly purposes," the team concluded.

Terrorism Fall 2016

1. TAL AJAJA (AFP).- When the Islamic State group captured Tal Ajaja, one of Syria's most important Assyrian-era sites, they discovered previously unknown millennia-old statues and cuneiform tablets, and then they destroyed them.
The extremist group, which has ravaged archeological sites under its control in Syria and Iraq, was chased from Tal Ajaja in northeastern Hasakeh province in February by Kurdish fighters. But the destruction IS wrought there over two years remains. Perched on a large hill around 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Iraqi border, the site is now a vision of desolation, riven with long tunnels. Fragments of broken artifacts are strewn throughout and large holes dug by looters pockmark the ground. The Assyrian empire, with its capital in Nineveh in modern-day Iraq, flourished in the first millennium BC. It produced celebrated artifacts, particularly bas-reliefs often depicting scenes of war. "Tal Ajaja, or ancient Shadikanni, was one of the main cities of Assyria," said Cheikhmous Ali of the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archeology. Most of the known treasures of Tal Ajaja, discovered in the 19th century, had long been removed and placed in museums in Syria or abroad. But the jihadists, as well as local looters, dug up artifacts that archeologists had not yet uncovered, destroying or trafficking priceless pieces. "They found items that were still buried, statues, columns. We've lost many things," lamented Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of Syria's antiquities department.
'Barbarians' More than 40 percent of Tal Ajaja was destroyed or ravaged by IS," added Khaled Ahmo, director of the antiquities department in Hasakeh."The tunnels that were dug destroyed invaluable archeological strata" that would have revealed the economic, social and political history of the era, he told AFP. In IS's extreme interpretation of Islam, statues, idols and shrines amount to recognising objects of worship other than God and must be destroyed.
But the group is also believed to have benefited from the trafficking of antiquities seized from sites under its control.In 2014, photos emerged of sledgehammer-wielding jihadists destroying Assyrian statues from Tal Ajaja dating back to 2,000-1,000 BC."These barbarians have burnt pages of Mesopotamia's history," said Abdulkarim."In two or three months, they wiped out what would have required 50 years of archeological excavations," he added.In 2014, the antiquities department on its website published a series of photos of items from Tal Ajaja that had been destroyed, including cuneiform tablets and bas-relief depictions of the lamassu -- the famous winged Assyrian deity.
The lamassu is a creature from Mesopotamian mythology, often depicted with a human head, the body of a lion or bull, and the wings of an eagle.Though traditionally considered protectors and placed outside temples to guard them, the lamassu of Tal Ajaja were unable to escape IS's ravages.
'Cultural cleansing' "IS turned the hilltop into a military zone," said local resident Khaled, who spoke on condition a pseudonym be used because he still fears IS might return."No one was allowed to enter the site without authorisation," he added."Hordes of armed men came in, along with traffickers of archeological objects," added another resident, Abu Ibrahim.Tal Ajaja was also known by the name Tal Araban in the Islamic era. But "even the upper strata dating back to that era were razed," said Ahmo.Abdulkarim said numerous artifacts from the site were smuggled to neighbouring Turkey and on to Europe, adding that he had alerted Interpol in a bid to retrieve some of the items.
Since its rise in 2014, IS has ravaged numerous archaeological sites in Iraq, including the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, provoking outrage.
The UN cultural organisation has described the jihadists' actions as "cultural cleansing".
In Syria, more than 900 monuments and archeological sites have been affected, damaged or destroyed by the regime, rebels or jihadists since the conflict began in March 2011, according to the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archeology.Among the worst incidents was the destruction by IS of temples in the famed ancient city of Palmyra, which provoked international outrage.
Between 2014 and 2015, Syria's antiquities department moved some 300,000 objects and thousands of manuscripts from across Syria into storage in Damascus.
But Abdulkarim has watched in horror as sites are laid waste by war and looters.
"Our heritage is hemorrhaging."