A stunning marble bust of Selika from the renowned French opera L'Africaine captured the attention of bidders yesterday (July 5), at Bonhams' Fine European Furniture, Sculpture and Works of Art auction.
The striking work was created by Italian sculptor Luigi Pagani towards the end of the 19th century. Selika is an African queen who, along with her king Nelusko, is captured by Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama. Upon discovering that Selika has married her captor in order to save his life, Nelusko tragically commits suicide, along with de Gama's own lover Inez, who believed him to be dead before learning of his marriage.
The last work by famed German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer - the first great exponent of French grand opera - the show is noted for its impressive stage scenes and elaborate costumes. It was met with great acclaim when first performed in Paris in 1865, and went on to be shown in both London and New York.
Commenting on the bust prior to the sale, Bonhams' Francois Le Brun said: "This very fine and imposing bust combines two materials not often seen in partnership, white marble and patinated bronze. And the story it tells crosses time, continents, and the life and death of lovers, set to music. You could say it is the ultimate conversation piece."
The majestic work sold for £97,250 ($151,139) in London, sitting comfortably within its £80,000-120,000 estimate. It was not the first Pagani L'Africaine piece to appear at auction; a pair of busts of both Nelusko and Selika by the sculptor sold for $321,100 at Christie's in 2003.
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