Fifty-five paintings by a chimpanzee — whose works have been acquired by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and the Duke of Edinburgh — will go on sale at a London gallery in December, collectively priced at around £200,000 ($247,000).
Desmond Morris, the famed ethologist and painter who owns the collection, has decided to sell them at the Mayor Gallery in London. They will be priced between £1,500 ($1,850) and £6,000 each ($7,400).
Congo the chimpanzee rose to artistic fame in the 1950s when he featured alongside Morris — now 91 — on a British television program called “Zoo Time,” which was broadcast from London Zoo.
Over a three-year period, the chimp completed 400 paintings in an abstract expressionist style. More than 50 years after his death in 1964 from tuberculosis, his work is still in demand.
In 2005, three of his pieces sold for an unexpected £14,000 at Bonhams auction house in London — far above the estimate of between £600 and £800.
James Mayor, director of the Mayor Gallery, told CNN that many of Congo’s paintings are “actually very good.”
“He was a fascinating painter,” Mayor said. “People would imagine he’d just grab a pencil or a paper, but…he’d have several colors and he’d think before he painted…He was extraordinary.”
Speaking to CNN, Morris reminisced about working with Congo. He praised the chimpanzee’s remarkable intelligence and pursuit of “art for art’s sake.”
“We were very lucky (on ‘Zoo Time’),” Morris said, “because by chance we managed to choose an extremely intelligent chimpanzee…
“Congo was full of life, full of curiosity and playfulness.”
Although Morris says people should not overestimate Congo’s “very simple abstract patterns,” he argues that they should recognize his patterns as “controlled” and consider his works’ thematic variations.
Although this famous chimpanzee’s art faced criticism when it first went on sale at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 1957, Morris is convinced of Congo’s artistic value.
Referring to Picasso and Miró — who made a journey to London expressly to exchange one of his works for one of Congo’s — Morris added: “The more serious the artist, the more they understood what Congo was doing — because they could see that he was positioning his lines.”
Morris, who is keeping one of Congo’s paintings for himself, said: “It’s now more than a scientific experiment. It has now become a bit of art history.”