Appraisal and Sale of African Art

Introduction: The collection of African art has been a prominent practice since the early 19th Century, when European colonization of the continent began in full force. During the 20th Century, African art became more popular because of artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, who drew inspiration from the “primitive” arts of the continent including masks, sculptures, and textiles. Today, the collecting and research of African art is a rapidly growing field. Many major museums in the United States and abroad have major African art collections.

The term “African Art” encompasses many styles and forms relating to the African continent, however it does not usually include the art of Northern Africa. African artforms include masks, costumes, sculptures, pottery, textiles, etc.

Appraisal Process

Examination and Identification:

As appraisers, the first step in our process is on-site examination. The appraiser will view the item being appraised first-hand, takes measurements and notes on condition, appearance, etc.

danThe next step is identification. Some styles in African art have very distinct visual cues that tell us what area of Africa and which culture made it. One such example is the Dan culture of Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire.

As can be seen in this example, Dan masks can be identified by their distinct features, including a high forehead, slit eyes, wide nose and enlarged lips. The masks are characteristically elongated and quite elegant in their treatment of the human face.

Sometimes the identification process is not so simple. When we come across something we’ve never seen before, we first consult our extensive reference library and online resources. If these efforts do not prove useful, we consult an African art specialist within our network of colleagues.


Research is the next and most important step of our process. After correctly identifying our objects, we search through online databases to find comparable items that have either been sold at auction or are currently being offered for sale in a retail environment, depending on what kind of appraisal we are doing. We have certain criteria for this research that help us find comparables as quickly and effectively as possible. The research we conduct helps us determine a final value in comparison to existing market data.

Compiling Report:

Our final step is to compile an appraisal report. We put together all pertinent information about the item being appraised, as well as comparable data, into one comprehensive hard copy or digital appraisal report.

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