Lot 128
  • 128

Luba-Songye Mask, Democratic Republic of the Congo

300,000 - 500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • wood
  • Height: 16 1/4 in (41.3 cm)


Armand Arman, New York, 1970s
John Giltsoff, London, acquired from the above
Allan Stone, New York, acquired from the above in 1981


The Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut, Power Incarnate: Allan Stone's Collection of Sculpture from the Congo, May 14 - September 4, 2011


John Giltsoff, Invitation: June 22, 1981 (postcard)
Kevin D. Dumouchelle, Power Incarnate: Allan Stone's Collection of Sculpture from the Congo, Greenwich, Connecticut, 2011, p. 49, cat. 26 (two views)

Catalogue Note

The offered lot belongs to a small corpus of highly accomplished masks merging the sensuous beauty of Luba with the mesmeric power of Songye art.  The combination of Luba and Songye styles is typical for the border region between both people and has historic roots.  Kerchache (1993: 576) notes: "The history of the [Songye] is closely linked to the Luba's, to whom they are related through common ancestors.  According to tradition, Kongolo, the founder of the first Luba empire in the sixteenth century, was a [Songye]."

Masks in the Luba-Songye style are distinguished by the convex forehead over a concave facial plane, the almond shaped downcast eyes, the broad band bisecting the forehead and continuing down the nose terminating in a sagittal tip, and the lined surface design in relief.  The important group of stylistically related masks, all measuring at least 15 inches (38 cm) in height, includes: two in the University Museum Philadelphia (the first with "8"-shaped mouth, purchased from Charles Vignier in 1921, inv. no. "AF 5115", Wardwell 1986: pl. 58 and cover; the second inv. no. "AF 1881", Wingert 1948: pl. 96); a third in the Afrika Museum Berg en Dal (inv. no. "41-27", Weinhold 2000: 87); a fourth previously in the collection of André Lefevre, published in the 1920s by Clouzot and Level (1925: pl. 31); a fifth in a private collection, sold at Christies Paris, December 4, 2009, lot 140; a sixth in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (inv. no. "B97.0015", previously Lawrence Gussman Collection); a seventh, previously in the Leff Collection (Carnegie Institute 1959: 58, cat. 372; sold at Sotheby's New York, October 10&11, 1975, lot 53); an eigth, previously in the Bronson Collection (Cornet 1978: 281, fig. 157); a ninth, previously in the Hombroich Museum near Neuss (Van Ham, Cologne, June 8, 2009, lot 54); a tenth, previously with Merton D. Simpson, New York, and Alain de Monbrison, Paris (Tribal Arts. Le Monde des Arts Tribal, Spring 1998, back cover); an eleventh, sold at Christie's New York, October 25, 1969, lot 113; a twelth and a thirteenth in private collections, published in Neyt (2004: 358) and Felix (2009: 82-83); a fourteenth, sold at Sotheby's London, June 23, 1981, lot 210; and a fifteenth, sold at Sotheby's New York, May 13, 2011, lot 274 and back cover.

The Allan Stone Luba-Songye mask belongs to a small well-known corpus of masks which can be attributed to the same artist. They are distinguished by their exceptional quality, powerful proportions, broad prognatic chin and wide-open square mouth. This corpus includes: one mask previously in the Stanley Collection and today in the Iowa Museum of Art (Neyt 1981: 267, fig. XIV.7); a second previously in the collection of Henri Lecler, sold at Sotheby's Parke-Bernet, New York, December 7, 1968, lot 91; a third previously in the collection of Georges Frederick Keller (Morigi 1980: 355, cat. 310); and a fourth, previously in the Alan L. Liebermann Collection and published by William Rubin in "Primitivism" (Rubin 1984: 173). As the largest and most archaic of these masks, displaying also greater age and more signs of use than any of its peers, the Stone mask may be the archetype of the group.

The particularities of this artist's style such as the concave facial plane, heavy-lidded eyes, and especially the line-ribbed surface contouring are uncannily reminiscent of Picasso's painting style of the years 1907-1908, as manifest in the upper right figure in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), Friendship (1908), Woman Seated (1908) and Woman's Head (1908). Indeed, William Rubin (1984: 264-265) discusses Songye masks as one of the possible sources for Les Demoiselles:  "Perhaps the most extraordinary masks to have been associated with the Demoiselles are the remarkably abstract Kifwebe masks of the Songye people. [...] But it is impossible that Picasso could have seen such a mask as early as 1907.  Even today the Musée de l'Homme [in Paris] possesses only one, which did not enter the collection until 1967."  The existence of Songye masks with much earlier collection history, however, such as one published by Herreman and Petridis (1993: 144 and 252, cat. 68) which was collected between 1885 and 1887 by Liévin Vandevelde, casts doubt upon Rubin's conjecture.  Future scholarship may well uncover the missing link Rubin sought, and account for the astonishingly specific stylistic resonances between these masks and Picasso's two watershed years of 1907-1908.