As New York’s Winter Antiques Show came to the end of its ten-day run, 21 to 30 January 2011, Canadian dealer Donald Ellis Gallery reported record sales. Not only did Ellis establish a new record for any Native American item twice, when he sold two extraordinary Eskimo masks from the estate of the Surrealist artist Enrico Donati (1909-2008), his sales at the Show of US$8.4 million exceeded the record total for any auction in this field. Each year Donald Ellis publishes a scholarly catalogue in conjunction with the fair and, in addition to the 36 works sold at the Show, he sold 9 other objects immediately prior to it for around US$1.3 million.
The Donati Fifth Avenue mask was the first of the two record masks to sell, breaking the record at a price in excess of US$2.1 million, and then this record was also broken when the Donati Studio mask sold for in excess of US$2.5 million. Yup’ik Eskimo masks are possibly the highest form of expression of Native American art and profoundly influenced the Surrealist artists who had escaped Paris in the Second World War and settled in New York. André Breton, Max Ernst, Roberto Matta, Wolfgang Paalan and Donati, among others, all owned significant examples and were the first to recognise them as exceptionally refined works of art. These two Donati masks have been requested for the forthcoming exhibition The Colour of My Dreams: Surrealism and Revolution in Art at the Vancouver Art Gallery from 28 May to 2 October 2011.
Donald Ellis said: “The market seems to have turned incredibly positive. We are pleased to have had the opportunity to handle the extraordinary works of art from the Donati estate. Their sale helped us achieve over the past two weeks a dollar figure that has almost doubled any previous fair or gallery exhibition we have curated.” Donald Ellis’ sale of 45 works of art from the catalogue and at the fair for a total of US$9.7 million considerably exceeds the record total for an auction of American Indian Art of US$7,030,600 (57 lots) for the famed Dundas Collection in October 2006, (US$6 million of which was paid by Donald Ellis on behalf of the Thomson family and a small group of Canadian collectors, philanthropists and institutions).