Nowhere in the genesis of the Modern Art movement at the beginning of the 20th century is the profound influence of African art more apparent, powerful and consistently resonant than in the work of Picasso. The Krugier-Picasso mask is a transcendent force of sculptural energy, with a vibrancy so apparent as to rival Picasso's most famous muses.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) clearly and famously defined this association, which he then powerfully harnessed as a constant motif in nearly every aspect of his oeuvre (see W. Rubin, ed., op. cit., 1984). At the heart of Picasso's artistic production is the mask and mask-like imagery, and the subject appears over and over as a representation of metamorphosis throughout his work.
The Picasso-Krugier Baule mask is fascinating on many levels. Based on the strong plasticity of the mask, its appeal to André Breton and later Picasso is evident. Here the image of a bushcow, a bovine which can be likened to an African buffalo, is transformed into an architectonic state--imposingly rectilinear and yet full of expansive movement. The arc of the open mouth is counterbalanced by the bowed medial ridge which is serrated above the mouth, but smoothed-out into an openwork circle over the eyes. Moving to the front of the mask, it changes into a rectilinear plane full of vitality in the contrasts of the circular head and eyes anchored by the forceful central lines. It is called 'goli glin' among the Baule, the last in a processional masquerade called goli, whose characters intercede supernatural forces. See op. cit., exh. cat., 2006, p. 174, for a related mask formerly in the Josef Mueller Collection (now Barbier-Mueller Collection, inv. 1007-42).
From a photograph taken in André Breton's atelier in Paris around 1925, the artist Max Morise (1900-1973) poses with this impressive mask (see op. cit., exh. cat., 1991), and offers evidence of the mask's early illustrious association with the Surrealist movement. From this photograph, we also know that the mask was in Paris before 1925, and, further, a look at the important wooden base supporting the mask offers another informative clue as to the mask's provenance. It is signed by who we now know was the Japanese wood artist, Kichizô Inagaki (1876-1951), who was active in Paris and working with many greats of the time, such as Eileen Gray, as well as creating unique bases for dealers and collectors of African art, such as Paul Guillaume and Charles Ratton, in the 1920s and 30s (see C.-W. Hourdé, "Kichizô Inagaki" in Tribal Art Magazine, winter 2012).
The Picasso-Krugier mask certainly provided formal inspiration for the artist. The semi-circular mouth with the pointed tongue appears in several of Picasso's paintings, most notably Guernica, 1937 (Zervos, vol. 9, no. 65; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid), where tortured bovines tangle with human figures. Another important association of the Picasso-Krugier mask is the subject matter--a bushcow. It is a creature closely related to the bull, an animal which is a major metaphorical theme for the artist, often believed to be the artist's alter-ego, employed in multiple contexts throughout his work. He himself liked creating and wearing masks, such as the wicker bull mask that hung in his atelier, which he would don and pretend to be the bull in the ring.
The Picasso-Krugier mask thereby represents a major axis upon which much of Picasso's work revolved--the abstraction of African art itself, the mask and the bull.
(fig. 1) Max Morise with the Krugier-Picasso Baule mask in the atelier of André Breton, 42 rue Fontaine, Paris, circa 1925.
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.
(fig. 3) Picasso in his studio wearing a bull mask, circa 1960. Photographe by Edward Quinn.