Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Outina Sells for €160,000

Outina, 58.5 x 42.5 cm, by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues?  Photo: La Dépêche.
An ink and watercolour drawing depicting Outina, the Timucua chief (fl.1564-1565), and attributed to Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (1533-1588) has just sold at auction in Toulouse for a staggering €160,000.  It had been estimated at a more modest but still impressive €50,000/80,000.  Local paper La Dépêche reported before and after the sale; a presale video can also be viewed. 

There is no question as to the correspondence between this figure and the one which appears on Plate XVIII of Theodore de Bry's Grand voyages (1591), accompanying an account of the Jean Ribault and René Goulaine de Laudonnière's ill-fated attempt at colonizing northern Florida in 1564.  This plate is one of 42 engravings, many of which show Timucua-speaking men and women who lived in northern Florida and southern Georgia, made after sketches by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues. Compare for yourselves:

BTW, De Bry explains this scene thus : "The women whose husbands have succumbed in battle or have died from illness have the custom of assembling on a day that seems to them most suitable to appear before their king. They approach him, overcome with grief, sit down on their heels, and covering their faces with their hands, they cry out and moan. They ask the king to avenge their dead husbands, to provide them with means to live during their widowhood and to permit them to remarry after the time laid down by law. The king, taking pity on them, grants their requests. They return home, weeping and wailing, as proof of the love they felt for their husbands. After having spent several days in mourning they carry their husbands' weapons and drinking cups to their tombs, then they start to weep again and celebrate other funereal ceremonies."
Correspondence between the two images notwithstanding, does that mean that the auctioned image is necessarily one of Le Moyne's lost original sketches?  Might it not be a mere copy of Le Moyne's original?  Or a copy done after the engraving?  The fact that the images mirror each other is a tantalizing hint that the watercolour is not merely derived from the engraving, and that it may indeed be the model... or a copy of the model. 

The trouble with the auction business is that it is a business.  Whatever research goes into identifying and documenting a lot is proprietary, and it is seldom made public.  In hyping this particular artwork, the auctioneer and the reporters after him rather conveniently glossed over the possibility that this piece may not be by the hand of the master himself, and they also conveniently occulted the fact that the very nature and authenticity of Le Moyne's work are, in fact, highly disputed by scholars.  Eminences such as  Christian Feest and Jerald Milanich have questioned whether Le Moyne produced drawings of the Timucua at all, given the absence of any definite documentation and the hard-to-explain presence on those images of what look to be Pacific seashells and Brazilian clubs.  At the very least, Le Moyne took liberties with his illustrations, perhaps considerable ones.  Milanich concluded that : "Until someone finds an actual, documented le Moyne drawing or painting of Florida Indians, I am going to assume we have been duped."  I wonder what he and Feest make of this latest find.  Is this the real deal?


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