Guro mask
Ivory Coast
height: 18 in. (46.5 cm.)
Paul Guillaume, Paris.
Etienne Bignou, Paris.
Anon. sale, Etude François de Ricqlès, Paris, 6 June 1999, lot 137.
Jan Krugier, acquired at the above sale.

Lot Essay

The Guro mask is an archetype most classically associated with the work of Amedeo Modigliani. In the Krugier mask, the association is perhaps most clearly delineated having previously been in the collection of Paul Guillaume, where Modigliani possibly saw this mask. Paul Guillaume became one of the most progressive art-dealers in Paris in the early twentieth century, from the period of the First World War until his untimely death in 1934. Ambitious and self-taught, he collected African sculpture and promoted avant-garde art. He was a major dealer for the American collector, Albert Barnes, and other international art collectors, for instance. Guillaume met Modigliani in 1914, was one of his earliest champions and became his exclusive dealer until 1916.

Modigliani, far better known for his paintings than his sculpture, always referred to himself as a sculptor and believed this was his true metier. Nevertheless, during his short career he spent only the years 1909 to 1915 as a sculptor. Within that time, 23 of the 25 surviving carvings is devoted to the human head as a subject.

There is very little precise evidence to document his stylistic assimilation of African art. Unlike Picasso, for example, who mentions his visits to the Trocadero and can be seen in photographs from his studio surrounded by masks and sculptures, Modigliani's chronology and exposure becomes more of a process of extrapolation. The aesthetic evidence, however, leaves no doubt of his debt to African art. Even his technique aligns with African sculptors themselves who worked directly with the material without an intermediary maquette. He looked outside the European tradition to non-Western art as a way to revitalize and reinvigorate his work (see A.G. Wilkinson, "Paris and London: Modigliani, Lipchitz, Epstein and Gaudier-Brzeska" in W. Rubin, ed., "Primitivism" and 20th Century Art, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1984, vol. II, pp. 417-452; Dr. Kenneth Wayne, "The Levy Modigliani Head" in Christie's, Paris, Impressionist and Modern Art, 14 June 2010, lot 24).

The Krugier mask is most likely part of the corpus of the Master of the Bron-Guro, a group defined by Eberhard Fischer for a workshop active in the early 20th century and related to that of the Baufle in southern Guro territory (Guro, 2008: 339-341). The works are characterized by their large proportions, smooth patina and highly stylized features including the sickle-shaped, close-set eyes, narrow nose and long, rounded forehead. The deep chevron patterning to the hairline and some sort of bold flourish at the crown is also typical, as seen in the Krugier example.

(fig. 1) Amedeo Modigliani, Paul Guillaume, Novo Pilota. Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris.

(fig. 2) Amedeo Modigliani, Tête, circa 1910-1912. Sold, Christie's, Paris, 14 June 2010, lot 24.

More from A Dialogue Through Art: Works from the Jan Krugier Collection Evening Sale

View All
View All