The mask, hammered down at auction for €547,500 (USD $648,000) at a recent Christie's sale in Paris, has become the second most expensive Dan mask ever sold at public auction, second only to another Paul Guillaume provenanced Dan mask, sold at Christie's in 2014 for €721,500 (USD $850,500).
Although not credited in the Christie's catalogue, Entwistle sold this extraordinary 19th century mask not once but twice, initially to the New York collectors, Marc and Denyse Ginzberg, and later to another private American collection. Its provenance reads like a who's who of collecting in the field of African art - Paul Guillaume, Ralph Nash, Hubert Goldet and, of course, the Ginzbergs.
The mask has been widely published and exhibited in countless historic exhibitions, from the Exposition de L'Art indigène des Colonies Françaises et du Congo belge, held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris in 1923-24 and organized by André Level, to the seminal show Negro Art, held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1935, organized by James Johnson Sweeney, and for which it was famously captured by Walker Evans in the especially-commissioned study portfolio for the show. More recently, it was displayed in the show Likeness and Beyond, Portraits from Africa and the world, held at The Centre for African Art, New York, and at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, both in 1990.
The hypnotizing mask is a remarkable achievement in volumetric balance and the artist has managed to counter great expressive force with profound interiority. The downcast eyes convey a meditative gaze that's reiterated in its introspective energy by the median ridge flowing from the top of the forehead through the mid-brow and continued along the nasal ridge.
The arched eyebrows convey an unparalleled level of direct engagement with the viewer and the striking mouth, with its full, sensuous lips is held mid-utterance to capture a moment held between inhalation and exhalation as in the expression of a mantra.
The deangle mask formed a central role in the circumcision camp of Dan culture and was known as a ‘joking or laughing masquerade’ on the basis of its benign, perhaps somewhat feminine, countenance; the role of the deangle masquerader was, fundamentally, to amuse and joke, especially with the women in the village, of whom they request food for the boys secluded in the circumcision camp.
1. Eberhard Fischer and Hans Himmelheber, The Arts of the Dan in West Africa, Zurich, 1984, p. 11