PARIS - In 1934, Pierre and Suzanne Vérité opened the Arnod, Art Nègre gallery, on the Rue Huyghens, in Montparnasse. The address, suggested to them by their friend and neighbour, the American artist John Graham, was emblematic, since in 1916, the Lyre et Palette gallery, located a little further down the street, had held the first Parisian exhibition that combined Modern art (Matisse, Picasso and Modigliani) with African art. Art dealers and collectors such as Paul Guillaume, Charles Ratton, Pierre Loeb and André Portier met and mingled at the Vérités' gallery, alongside members of the Parisian avant-garde – the Surrealists Paul Eluard, André Breton and Tristan Tzara – and the international avant-garde, including Helena Rubinstein and James J. Sweeney, whom the Vérités had met via Graham.
Pierre and Suzanne Vérité acquired most of the masterpieces of their personal collection during the 1930s, however their collection was not revealed to the public until 1950. The long friendship between Pierre Vérité and Frédérick-H Lem was undoubtedly decisive in the Vérités’ decision to allow their pieces to be published for the first time in Lem's "Réalité de l’art Nègre", which was published in December 1950, in Tropiques, Revue des troupes coloniales. Alongside already famous objects from the collections of Helena Rubinstein and the artist Isaac Païles appeared a "Masque géminé en bois laqué, des Baoulé. (Collection P. Vérité, Paris)" (Twin mask in lacquered wood, from the Baule), reproduced in a full page, this mask stood out as the manifesto for a unique collection and vision.
BAULE DOUBLE-MASK, CÔTE D'IVOIRE. ESTIMATE € 2,000,000–3,000,000.
The double mask from the Vérité collection was immediately raised to iconic status. It would go on to be the leading piece in the two major African art exhibitions held in Paris in the 1950s: Chefs-d’œuvre de l’Afrique Noire, at the Leleu gallery (June 12-27, 1952), where it appeared on the first page of the catalogue, and Les arts Africains, at the Cercle Volney (June 3- July 7, 1955). In "this magical world of pure aesthetics" (introduction to the catalogue of the Volney exhibition, p. 9-11), the painter André Lhote paid tribute to "the most severely, most fatally, most specifically aesthetic [paths taken] […] by the great Black Meditation," the discovery of which presided over the birth of Modern Art. The double mask was displayed alongside other masterpieces from the collection of Pierre and Suzanne Vérité, including the Fang ngil mask and the Chokwe hunter figure, as well as objects belonging to the most prominent French collectors of the time, including Léonce and Pierre Guerre, Pierre Loeb, René Rasmussen, Isaac Païles, Madeleine Rousseau, Louis Carré and Alberto Magnelli. The double mask was the object chosen, as a drawing, to illustrate the cover of the exhibition catalogue.
Published many times, this masterpiece reveals, in the contained intensity of its expression and the dazzling quality of its carving, the genius of a great master sculptor from pre-colonial Africa, an artist who Alain-Michel Boyer has named "Master of the Ayahu." Although the mask appears to combine the twin faces into a single indissoluble being, each face is individualised in its colouring and signs of beauty, magnificently expressing the notion of duality, which lies at the heart of Baule thought.
In June 1937, upon completing his famous article entitled: "Primitive Art and Picasso" (Magazine of Art, vol. 30, No. 4, April 1937), John Graham produced a striking interpretation of what was in all likelihood this double mask which he had discovered at the gallery of his friends Pierre and Suzanne Vérité. He invokes the myth of duality so prized by the Surrealists, an idea which was also seized upon by Picasso at the time, such as in the two overlapping views of the face of Dora Maar in the iconic portrait entitled Femme assise (Seated woman; Musée Picasso, Paris).