Guro Mask by the Bron-Guro Master, Ivory Coast
- Height: 30 3/4 in (78.1 cm)
By descent from the above
Alain de Monbrison, Paris, acquired from the above
Myron Kunin, Minneapolis, acquired from the above on October 14, 1997
Alain de Monbrison (adv.), Tribal Arts, Vol. 4, No. 3, Winter 1997, p. 7
Eberhard Fischer, Guro: Masks, Performances and Master Carvers in Ivory Coast, Zurich, 2008, p. 338, fig. 337 (with erroneous provenance)
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Within the entire corpus of early Guro sculpture, the only master whose work rivals that of the Bron-Guro master is the Master of Buafle, the earliest to be identified and the best-known Guro sculptor. While masks surmounted by full figures are known in the Buafle corpus, notably two masks topped by couples, one in the Yale University Art Gallery, and another which previously belonged to Andre Breton (recently rediscovered and sold at Tajan, Paris, June 11, 2014, in a one-lot-auction), there are no known double-face masks by the Buafle Master. A small number of double-face masks survive from the neighboring and closely related Baule people, and are among the most highly prized Ivorian masks: one previously in the collection of Pierre Vérité (sold at Enchères Rive Gauche, Paris, Collection Vérité, June 17-18, 2006, lot 165); another in the Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva (Hahner-Herzog 1998: cat. 41); and one previously in the collection of Nelson Rockefeller, today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. “1979.206.294”). The Kunin Mask by the Bron-Guro Master is however the only known Guro double face mask which is also surmounted by a full figure.
In his analysis of the hands of early Guro masters, Eberhard Fischer (2008: 339-341) discusses the work of the artist previously known as the "The Master of Zuenula" (Bouloré 1995: 710), whom he prefers to name after a Guro subgroup settled near Buafle: The Master of the Bron-Guro. According to Fischer (loc. cit.), "Rough and spontaneous as they look, [masks by the Bron-Guro Master] are superbly crafted and display the artistic mind of a unique Guro personality. There is no doubt that this master is stylistically indebted to the Master of Buafle, yet he has pursued his own vision, possibly a family tradition, to express his artistic preferences [...]."
Fischer defines the present mask from the collection of Myron Kunin as the masterpiece of the artist's œuvre, continuing (loc. cit.): "The Bron-Guro master's most important work is the superb double-faced mask crowned with a tall, nude Guro woman [...]. More than 80 centimeters high, the piece is made of rather heavy wood and has a highly polished dark-brown surface, with portions tinted light-brown or black. The two identical faces of the mask merge in the coiffure. They have exceedingly large, undecorated foreheads without a trace of eyebrows, long slender stick-like noses, and cubes for mouths. From under the high-set ears, shaped like tiny concentric semi-circles, a serrated band encompasses the sihouette. The face of the female figure is shaped like the mask, but has three scars on the forehead and on each cheek, striped brows above the eye-slits, and whitened teeth in an almost square mouth. The coiffure consists of a rectangular block with a horn-shaped braid protruding to the left. The figure's neck is long with a scar at the nape and an Adam's apple in the front. The body is voluminous with well-built conical breasts around which the arms and the abdoment are carved, the latter with a scarification design consisting of two rows of squares. The figure wears bracelets on each arm, those on the left mimicking of ivory. The massive buttocks are marked with a horizontal ledge, a groove possibly made to attach some string and beads. The legs and feet of the grand lady are short and the calves are not exaggerated."
Fischer identifies the other known works in the master's œuvre: two masks which feature only a single face surmounted by a rectangular block and a curved horn-shaped coiffure, one in a French collection (ibid.: 339, fig. 338) and another in the Kofler-Erni collection, Riehen (ibid.: fig. 339); a similar piece with twin braids in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. "1977.457"); an another with twin braids in a private collection (Fischer and Homberger 1985: fig. 98). In addition he places two figures, one free standing, and the other a heddle pulley (Fischer 2008: fig. 340 and 341), within the artist's corpus.
Singular in its quality, rarity, and art-historical importance, the Kunin Guro Mask by the Bron-Guro Master is unquestionably one of the finest surviving Guro sculptures, and an exceptional example of early West African mask sculpture.