Private Collection, New York
Christie's East, New York, April 25-26, 1984, lot 678, consigned by the above
Private Collection, acquired at the above auction
Thence by descent
The idealized faces of portrait masks, called Mblo, are the most emblematic form of Baule sculptural tradition. As discussed by Susan Vogel in her landmark Baule: African Art, Western Eyes, New Haven, 1997, 141, "The idealized faces are introspective, with the high foreheads of intellectual enlightenment and the large downcast eyes of respectful presence in the world." This example bears smooth carving surfaces juxtaposed with fine, geometric patterns, both typical characteristics of Baule sculpture. Usually a portrait of a particular known individual, Mblo masks are used in a highly structured form of entertainment dance and are ornamented with motifs chosen for their beauty rather than for their iconographic significance. Details such as fine scarifications between the eyebrows and a triangulated decoration along the cheeks "[denote] personal beauty, refinement, and a desire to give pleasure to others. [...] The Mblo portrait mask was the summit of Baule sculpture, the most beautiful art form" (Vogel, Baule: African Art, Western Eyes, 141).