It was in 1985 when Eberhard Fischer and Hans Himmelheber suggested in the context of their important exhibition at the Rietberg Museum Zurich Die Kunst der Guro, Elfenbeinküste that two masks in the Rietberg Museum's collection (inv. nos. "RAF 500 & 507", collected before 1928 and 1932, respectively), one mask at the Ethnographic Museum, University of Zurich (previously Han Coray Collection), as well as one mask in a private New York collection were works by the same artist whom they called the "Master of Gonate" (Fischer and Himmelheber 1985: 44 with pls. 11-13; for an amended English version see Fischer 2008: 343-345 with pls. 343-346).
Regarding one of the two masks at the Rietberg Museum (inv. no. "RAF 507"), featuring two curved horns, Fischer (2008: 343-344) notes: "Gonate is a village with a mixed population of Guro and Bete people in the region between Buafle and Daloa. [...] This master's masks - worn at an angle in front of the face and hence neither true face masks nor helmet masks - are carved out of lightweight wood and seem to be almost rectangular. Perhaps the most subtle mask by the Master of Gonate is in the von der Heydt collection, now in the Museum Rietberg Zurich and published in 1932. [... The hairstyle is] indicated only by three parallel ridges separated by grooves, which form the M-shaped hairline. Below this, a high forehead is marked down the middle by a vertical scar. Slightly raised semicircles surround the the elliptical eye-slits, half closed by the heavy upper lids. The relatively short but high, and in cross-section triangular, nose ends abruptly without nose-wings but has two nostrils burned in. [...] The ears are highly geometrical, each carved as a flat, raised, three-quarter circle. [...] All masks by the master of Gonate are clearly shaped with softly modeled planes, decorative details in slightly raised relief work, and usually a particularly expressive mouth."
Close comparison of the present lot with the known corpus of works by the Master of Gonate allow to identify it as another work by the same hand - in fact, it is one of the artist's finest creations. The discovery of this mask is a remarkable event and a significant addition to the known corpus of works by this important Guro-Bete artist.
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