Rare Fang Mask, Gabon

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Lot 100
Rare Fang Mask, Gabon

Sold for US$ 48,680 inc. premium

African and Oceanic Art

13 May 2019, 17:00 EDT

New York

Rare Fang Mask, Gabon
height of mask 9 1/2in (24.1cm)
height including fiber attachments 18in (45.7cm)


Provenance
Harold Rome Collection, New York
Irwin Hersey Collection, New York, by 1980
Blossom and Dwight Strong Collection, San Francisco
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1999

Exhibited
Greenvale, New York, C.W. Post Art Gallery, African Sculpture; The Shape of Suprise, 17 February - 30 March, 1980;
San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, East of the Atlantic, West of the Congo, Art from Equatorial Africa, The Dwight and Blossom Strong Collection, 15 July - 26 November 1995

Published
Vogel, Susan, African Sculpture - The Shape of Surprise, Greenvale, 1980, fig. 118
Siroto, Leon, East of the Atlantic, West of the Congo, Art from Equatorial Africa - The Dwight and Blossom Strong Collection, De Young Fine Arts Museum catalogue, 1995, fig. 3

Vogel notes (Ibid., p. 36), 'Fang masks such as this one were among the first kinds of African sculpture to become known in Europe. In 1911 a mask very like this one hung on the wall of Braque's studio. These objects were at the time seen as strange and exciting. In 1910 Derain described them as "amazingly, frighteningly expressive."'

Siroto (Ibid.) notes, 'The style of this mask suggests that it came from an inland and northern Fang group or perhaps from the Bulu, which would indicate a range from northern Gabon through eastern Equatorial Guinea into southern Cameroon. The characteristic features of this mask-style indicate a schematized face, a vertical line down the middle of the brow, punctate arcs over the eyes, and unusually flat cheeks. Only a few examples of this style have been localized, and thus my assumption as to the provenance of related examples must be based upon inference. The style seems less likely to come from the southern and western Fang groups.

Many masks of this style are of the ngontangan type: a helmet-like head with four faces arranged radially around its sides or top. The type is said to have been used traditionally to detect witches, but this remains to be ascertained. In any event, it was of great importance in entertainment, performing a virtuoso dance that contributed to the wealth of the dancer and the prestige of his patrons. The performance could include the participation of accompanists displaying images related to the masks. It is possible that other, single-faced masks might have danced in association with the main one. This sort of relationship might explain the close correspondence between the face of this mask and those on the sides of ngontangan helmet-masks.

This example is carved in one of the more interesting substyles associated with ngontang mask. This may relate it to a relatively early period or a more conservative carver. The curving lines on the upper lip represent a tattoo pattern, rather than a mustache. Ngontangan means "young white woman." In the early days of their contact with Europeans, the Fang thought white women to be even more magical than white men.'
Contacts
Rare Fang Mask, Gabon
Rare Fang Mask, Gabon
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