Lot 46
  • 46

Masque-heaume, Bekom, Cameroun

100,000 - 150,000 EUR
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  • wood and beads
  • haut. 73 cm ; 28 3/4 in


Collection Jacques Viault, Paris, acquis ca. 1980


Paris, Galerie Bernard Dulon, Cameroun, 16 juin - 30 septembre 2006 / New York, Galerie Friedman & Vallois, 20 octobre - 30 novembre 2006


Von Lintig, Cameroun, 2006, p. 142-143

Catalogue Note

"[In the kingdoms of western Cameroon] there is a wide variety of masks with diverse functions that belong to various secret societies. Zoomorphic masks hold a very special place in this ensemble" (Perrois et Notué, Rois et sculpteurs de l’Ouest Cameroun. La panthère et la mygale, 1997, p. 262).

Within this eminent corpus, masks with buffalo features are the least commonly disseminated. Rarer still are those entirely covered with glass beads, as is the case here. Unique within each chiefdom, the masks were the prerogative of royalty and only came out during great royal funeral ceremonies to pay homage to the deceased king and assert the authority of his successor. Like the panther or the elephant, which are more frequently represented, the symbolism of the buffalo is associated with the image of royal power and with the protective force of life.

Whilst the art of beading is recorded in Cameroon well before the first European contacts, the "large cattle masks, entirely covered with tight rows of blue pearls, seem specific to the chiefdoms of the north of the [Grassland]" (Harter, Arts Anciens du Cameroun, 1986, p. 128). The Buffalo mask in the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin (inv. No. III C 21154) acquired in Kom in 1907, is a particularly good example, as is the one from the Bafum chiefdom published in 1967 in L’art Nègre (Meauzé, 1967, No. 109). The prodigious mask of the Jacques Viault collection differs from this narrow corpus in several respects: the unique presence of ancient spherical pearls - each one individually produced - combined with cowrie pearls, mounted on a rattan (rather than textile) frame adhering to the core of the wood, and the choice of a single night-blue (nfwaya) shade for the glass beads. This colour is reserved for royal use and combined with the white of the mbuun cowrie, symbolises wealth and prestige. The preciousness of the materials, their emblematic power and the virtuosity of their layout all attest to the eminent importance of the work and its great antiquity. Confirmed by the appearance of the wood inside the mask and on the tongue between the teeth, it is established as part of the combined history of trade routes and of the flourishing of the northern Grassland kingdoms between the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. Finally, the striking formal and chromatic dynamics - emphasized by the shades of the translucent pearls when brought into the light, reveal the talent of the artist and place this mask among the masterpieces of the art of Cameroon.