On October 1st in Falls Church, Virginia, an extraordinary event will take place at Quinn’s Auction Galleries, and bring to a close a controversy that has roiled the African Art market since the death of famed art dealer/artist Merton Simpson at the age of 84 in March of 2013.
Among the myriad ceremonial statues, paintings, tribal objects and decorative items in the collection, the shining star of Merton Simpson’s private collection is a 16th century bronze plaque, acquired by Simpson from a European dealer in the 1950s and authenticated by African art experts John A. Buxton and Kathy Curnow, and that has also undergone forensic examination by Rare Collections, which provides scientific investigation and research services to museums and private collections in the US and abroad. The single figure of a warrior chief holds a ceremonial dance sword and also depicts a European man in profile and two crocodile heads and rosettes.
Exhaustive research has been conducted to confirm the plaque’s lawful status. Growing museum interest in the extraordinary artifact indicates a full house on Saturday, as well as online participation.
Simpson’s personal history is one of triumph and tragedy. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Merton Simpson may have begun his career as an Abstract Expressionist painter, but he became famous for his specialization in African Art, ultimately being honored at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was known and respected for his expertise in the field, but in his declining years his health and ability to run his gallery on 28th Street deteriorated, outsiders took advantage of him, and finally when he died his son Merton Jr. had to send out emails to friends of his father asking for contributions to pay for his funeral and burial.
The estate is currently under the supervision of the office of Public Administration, New York.
The Benin plaque, estimated at $800,000 - $1.2 million, is among other highlights of the upcoming sale. Indicative of many artifacts is a horned plank Bedu mask with checkerboard design from the Ivory Coast/Ghana, depicting a elaborately coiffered female, estimated at $10,000 - $15,000, and a Teke tribe mask with the same estimate.
O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc. (OTE) served in a non-participatory advisory capacity.