A flattering double

On 06 March 2020, by Caroline Legrand

This mask from the former Emerson and Dina Woelffer collection in Los Angeles is a fine example of the Baule’s harmonious aesthetics and attests to their worship traditions.

Côte d'Ivoire, late 19th or early 20th century, 41 x 18 cm. Baule dance mask in old wood and deep honey and shiny brown patina due to use.
Estimate: €45,000/85,000

Looking at this large, beautiful Baule mask, one understands what the American artist Emerson Woelffer (1914-2003) saw in it: pure, perfectly harmonious forms, an ancestral object that conveys the spirit of primary forces. Like many 20thcentury artists, he found inspiration in his collection of African artworks. With its inner traces of wear and patina of former use due to the repeated application of natural pigments each time it was taken out, this Baule mask shows its age. Dating to the late 19th or early 20th century, it was used during many ceremonies in Côte d'Ivoire. Its forms are characteristic of Baule art. Baule masks are usually portraits of individuals known and even present in the village. Their African name is "Ndoma" which means "double". A group of admirers commissioned them with the likeness of a person appreciated for his prestige or beauty. Used during agricultural and fertility rituals, they were often reserved for special occasions. They were worn during Mblo entertainment dances too but their appearances were mostly fleeting to preserve their beauty. Everyone looked forward to seeing them worn by the dancers and reunited with the person in whose honour they were made.

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