Lot 34
  • 34

Mask, Bungain, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea

150,000 - 250,000 USD
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  • wood
  • Height: 16 in (40.6 cm)
yamburai parak

Interior of the mask inscribed '8102' in white ink; '2 1159' & '150' faintly in pencil; four French Customs stamps in black ink


Joe Hloucha, Prague
Internationales Kunst- und Auktions-Haus, Berlin, Sammlung Joe Hloucha, Prag: Ostasien, Ozeanien, Afrika, Japanische Graphik, December 3-4, 1930, lot 403
Charles Ratton, Paris, possibly acquired at the above auction
Adolf Hoffmeister, Prague, acquired from the above in May, 1938
Thence by descent
Sotheby’s, New York, November 19, 1999, lot 142, consigned by the above
Lance & Roberta Entwistle, London, acquired at the above auction
American Private Collection, acquired from the above


Veletržní palác, Prague, Výstava mimoevropského umění a uměleckého průmyslu [Exhibition of Non-European Art and Art Industry], November, 1929 - February, 1930
Spolek výtvarných umělců Mánes, Prague, Výstava Emil Filla, plastika, suché jehly, lepty, dřevoryty, litografie, oleje ; černošská a tichomořská plastika 185 soch ze sbírky Joe Hlouchy, [Emil Filla Exhibition: Sculpture, Dry-point, Etchings, Woodcuts, Lithographs, Oils; 185 Negro and Pacific Sculptures from the Collection of Joe Hloucha], 1935


Veletržní palác, ed., Výstava mimoevropského umění a uměleckého průmyslu, Prague, 1929, no. 1047
Vincenc Kramář, Výstava Emil Filla, plastika, suché jehly, lepty, dřevoryty, litografie, oleje ; černošská a tichomořská plastika 185 soch ze sbírky Joe Hlouchy, Prague, 1935, no. 132
Lubor Hájek, Werner Forman & Bedřich Forman, Kunst ferner Länder: Ägypten, Afrika, Amerika, Ozeanien, Indonesien, Prague, 1956, p. 231
Tomáš Winter, Lovesick Exoticism: the Collection of Non-European Ethnic Art of Adolf Hoffmeister, Prague, 2010, p. 82


Good condition for an object of this type and age. General marks, nicks, scratches, abrasions, and wear consistent with age and use. Small chip to top edge. Wear around holes for attachment. An open horizontal crack underneath the nose, with remains of old adhesive. Exceptionally fine dark reddish brown aged layered patina with encrustation. Remains of crusty old white, yellow, and red pigment as seen in catalogue photograph. Exceptionally fine patina on reverse. Two old nails inserted at top of reverse.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The important male mythical being represented by this mask is known as barak (also spelled barag or brag) or parak. Created on the coast west of the Sepik, the spirit is almost invariably represented with a long pointed nose, although in other respects the image has several variations. Discussing a related yamburai parak mask in the Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde, Leiden (inv. no. 3225-1), Dirk Smidt writes: 'this type of mask is associated with a male mythical being called parak [...] who played an important part in ceremonial life. It is probable that the [masked] parak figure performed during the initiation of boys. In the Mambe area, parak is said to promote successful hunting, particularly of marsupials, pigs, and cassowaries. Some parak masks are associated with bush spirits, who, though themselves invisible, reveal the game to the hunters, but conceal it from strangers. When making one of these masks the spirit was called upon to take good care of the people, while [the creator uttered] magic incantations [...]' (Smidt in Toos van Kooten & Gerard van den Heuvel, eds., Sculptuur uit Afrika en Oceanië, 1990, pp. 230-231, cat. no. 87).

The present mask is first recorded in 1929 in the collection of the Czech writer Joe Hloucha, whose interest in Oceanic art was perhaps inspired by his uncle Josef Kořenský, who travelled to the Pacific in 1900-1901. Hloucha's wide-ranging collection was exhibited in Prague from November, 1929 - February, 1930, where it met with an enthusiastic reaction from the press and the public. Hloucha subsequently offered the collection for sale en bloc to the Czechoslovakian state, which declined, and so he instead sent it to auction in Berlin at the end of 1930, where it was photographed by the avant-garde photographer Alexander Hackenschmied (Winter in Grossman, Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens, 2009, p. 104). The auction catalogue contains a long introduction by the anthropologist Leonhard Adam under the title 'The First German Auction of Primitive Art'. It is unclear whether or not the mask sold in the auction (it was exhibited in Prague in 1935 as part of Hloucha's collection), but by 1938 it was in the possession of Charles Ratton.

At that time Ratton was in regular correspondence with the Czech artist, writer, and composer Adolf Hoffmeister, who acquired the present mask from him in May 1938. Hoffmeister was one of the founding members of the Czech avant-garde artistic association Děvetsil, which brought members of the international avant-garde such as André Breton, Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, and Vladimir Mayakovsky to Prague to lecture and perform. From the mid-1920s onward Hoffmeister sketched and conducted improvised interviews with many of these figures, and established a friendship with Breton, with whom he corresponded on the subject of Oceanic art.