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Post Lot Text
'To be sure the masks of the Dan, Géré, Wobé and Gio have, these twenty years past, attracted unbound attention on the part of scholars, connoisseurs and collectors. The notorious auctions of Ratton, Drouot and the like in Paris, and the lyrical and dithyrambic odes devoted to these masks by avant-garde artists and critics, have only increased their reputation' - Frans Olbrechts (1939)
This quote by the famous Belgian scholar reminds us that since the beginning of the last century, the Dan mask was heralded as one of the most iconic form of African art and a veritable distillation of all of the art south of the Sahara. The best Dan masks, like the Ciolkowska mask, render contradictory assessments of the form: soft/strong, smooth/volumetric, seductive/foreboding, naturalism/abstraction.
Clearly the work of masterhand, the Ciolkowska mask reveals a fully voluptuous form, rarely seen to this degree, especially visible in the heavily-lidded eyes in which both the upper and lower lid meet to a hemispherical form framed by pyramidal cheekbones which meet the highly sensual and salient lips all centered around the restrained tubular nose and anchored by a gently rounded forehead. Based on a stylistic comparison of Dan masks which bear related traits, including the hooded eyes, pointed cheekbones, very full lips and deep, polished surface, the origin of this mask can be placed among the southern Dan people, along the Western border of the Ivory Coast and into Liberia. Some of the most sumptuous and dynamic masks, which can be attributed to the Dan, but also includes the Wé (ex-Guéré), hail from this region (see Vandenhoute 1948 and Marie-Noelle Verger-Fevre 1993 for further discussion on northern and southern Dan stylistic classification).The region includes the Uamé subgroup of the Dan, who reside in the upper Cavally region, and is home to some of the most celebrated of Dan masks and artists, such as the famous carver, Zlan, from the Wé village of Belewale. See, for example, a mask collected by Vandenhoute in 1939, in Upper Cavally region in a private collection, which shares the Ciolkowska mask's restrained expressionism (Petridis [ed.], 2001, cat.97) and Himmelheber, 1960:139, #119 for a hauntingly beautiful, expressionistic, anthropozoomorphic mask, with salient lips matched by a gently sloped forehead, carved by Zlan.
Marie-Ange Ciolkowska had a unique place in the tribal art world. Born at the beginning of the last century, she was a notable figure on the tribal art scene for over half a century, until her death in the early 1990's. 'Married to a Polish artist who died young, her only son, a brilliant photographer, was killed in an air crash in his 20s. A passionate collector of the exotic, she financed herself by supplying dealers for whom she also strung tribal jewellery. Her apartment at 26 rue Jacob was a meeting place for intellectuals as well as artists and Breton, Eluard and Madelaine Rousseau were among those who dined at her table in the room where the walls were covered with Samoan bark cloth. Amongst her closest friends were John Hewett and Peter Wilson, with both of whom she used to stay. One summer there was a crisis in the restaurant she ran during the summer in Ramatuelle, so Peter Wilson became the maitre du vin and George Ortiz a waiter to help out. Two star pieces from her collection were the Hooper Nukuoro figure that Ken Webster jogged loose for her, which was later acquired by George Ortiz, and the superb Torres Straits drum that was bought at Christie's by John and Marsha Friede (Christie's Paris, 20 June 2006, lot 277). She arranged to dispose of material from some German museums after WWII, much of which she sent to J.J. Klejman in New York' (Hermione Waterfield, personal communication, October 2012). She spent the fall and winter in Paris and the spring and summer in Ramatuelle, and it is there that she acquired this exquisite Dan mask.