'Finest' religious stool by African Buli Master sets $7.5m World Record price

The UAE's Jewad Salim and Russia's Alexander Yakovlev are two artists who've consolidated their places among the world's finest artists at auction - and confirmed the expansion of the strengthening art markets into the growing economies of China, Russia and other nations.

Now Africa is asserting itself on the auction block, with $7.1m sale of a Luba caryatid stool sculpture by the legendary Master of the Buli. While Salim and Yakovlev each date to the 20th century, this stool was first acquired by a collector in 1896.

The stool's stylings are otherwise referred to as Buli style: a highly-distinctive style of wooden sculpture pioneered by the Luba peoples in the Congo village of Buli. Presumed to originally have been the work of a single artist, the Master of the Buli, it was determined that the sculptures were later produced in a workshop.

The $7.1m Luba caryatid stool sculpture by the Master of the Buli

In Buli and throughout much of Africa, stools like this example were important symbols of power and authority. Among the Luba, rank and title were indicated by increasingly religious forms of seating and featured prominently in religious rites. It didn't merely serve as a seat, but as a perceived receptacle of the chief's spirit.

This particular stool is considered by many as being probably the finest stool from the Master's entire body of work. Not surprisingly, it inspired fierce and competitive bidding in the saleroom and by telephone at Sotheby's. In the end, the piece sold for $7.1m.

The piece was first acquired in Paris in 1896 by Harry Bombeeck and brought back to Belgium in 1899. Aside from its provenance, the seat is also regarded as being among the Master's finest pieces for its mix of detail and delicacy. This is the first time the Master has appeared at Sotheby's since 1979, when one of his pieces sold for £240,000 - then an international World Record price for a piece of African art.


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