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A Magnificent Krou (Grebo) Mask, Ivory Coast

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A Magnificent Krou (Grebo) Mask, Ivory Coast, Carved from a single piece of wood of overall elliptical form, with a rope spanning across the projecting lips and two protruding cylinders depicting the eyes; exceptionally fine patina of blue, black, and white pigments.\nHeight 21 in. 53.3 cm


Originally attributed to the 'Grebo' as a general term covering a variety of related people living in Western Ivory Coast and Eastern Liberia, recent scholarship assigns this type of mask more precisely to the Krou, a small population from the western coastal region of the Ivory Coast. According to Siegmann (personal communication March 16, 2007) the word 'Krou' should be distinguished from 'Kru,' which refers both to a neighbouring group in Liberia and also a language family that includes the Grebo, Krou, and Kru, among others.

Monni Adams (in Phillips 1995: 465) suggests a classification of Krou masks into three types: Type 1 with a flat facial plane, one or more pairs of tubular eyes, a thin nasal ridge, and a rectangular mouth with projecting parallel lips; Type 2 with a wooden disc or carved horns extending beyond the face; Type 3 with a massive forehead projecting over the face. The Stanoff mask is a magnificent example of Type 1, among the finest of its kind known. For other closely related masks cf. a mask in the collection of the Musée du Quai Branly (formerly Musée de l'Homme), Paris, acquired in 1900; another in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Inv. No. 1979.206.7); and a third from the Mario Meneghini Collection, Italy (Sotheby's New York, May 19, 2000, lot 226).

William Rubin (1927-2006), former Director of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and organizer of the seminal 1984 exhibition Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, discusses the Stanoff mask at length in his contribution to the catalogue of the exhibition Perspectives: Angles on African Art at New York's Museum for African Art (Rubin in Center for African Art 1987: 61):

"This is one area where I think I know as much about the masks as any anthropologist on earth, and probably more. Because Picasso had two Grebo masks -- and they were of particular importance to his work -- I looked at every Grebo mask I could possibly see anywhere. There are no two that really look alike. Though there are, of course, certain common denominators.

"This piece [the Stanoff mask], for example, has a very particular relationship of the top part to the bottom part. I've never seen the curve on the top part on another piece -- this way the forehead curves out and comes back. I've seen asymmetrical eyes before, but never with a circle and an 'X.' I have never seen the mouth -- the typical Grebo mouth -- with teeth, and then this lip-like shape coming down in this way. [...]

"Grebo masks have a particular interest for the historian of modern art. It is one of the few cases where we know that the contemplation of a tribal object directly influenced a major modern artist in a way that the artist himself was conscious of and spoke about. I think this is a very interesting mask. The notion of the eye as a cylinder is what interested Picasso. But that is true of all Grebo masks. What makes one better than another is everything else. And this [the Stanoff mask] is a good one, a very good one.

"I think the eyes are quite wonderful in the sense that here you have the human face, which is basically symmetrical, but in the last analysis, also asymmetrical -- which is true of all human heads. The eyes are basically symmetrical; most of the Grebo masks treat them symmetrically, by putting something like these concentric circles at the end of the cylinders. This mask has one eye with an 'X.' Given the symmetry of the whole piece, it's at once an interesting and arresting aspect of it. Whether this had some kind of implication of a religious sort, we don't know. Whether the man who made it was one eyed or had some kind of facial tick, we can't know either. It may indeed only attach to a sense of artistic 'play' in the artist's mind. That is, some notion of opposition as opposed to similarity. The meaning for me here is the shock of contrast within a structure of similarity. Everything is not only otherwise symmetrical in this piece, but it is usually unified in the sense that it has one color. The color gives it a oneness, as does the symmetry. Then you have this single, boffo change -- a perfect example of how artists did not just imitate models."

The collecting history together with the archaic style and the aged appearance of the wood on the mask's interior suggest that the Stanoff mask is of great age. The mask's features (overall shape, mouth, forehead with fiber attachment, form, and design of eyes) are virtually identical to a mask shown in the background of a photograph taken at Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler's appartment on the Rue George Sand in 1912-13. The resemblance indeed is so close that William Rubin identified the Stanoff mask as the Kahnweiler mask when featuring it in the French edition of Primitivism (cf. Rubin 1987: between pp. 343 and 344). Even though the identity of the mask has not been confirmed by the Kahnweiler archive, the photograph at least suggests that by 1912 Kahnweiler owned a mask that was with certainty created by the same carver as the Stanoff mask. Given the evident traces of long use on the Stanoff mask it is then clear that the carver who created both masks was active several decades earlier in the 19th century.


New York, Museum for African Art, Perspectives: Angles on African Art, New York, September 18, 1987 - January 3, 1988

Formes et Couleurs, Musée Dapper, Paris, April 1 - September 15, 1993


Height 21 in. 53.3 cm


William Rubin (ed.), Le "Primitivisme" dans l'art du 20e siècle, Paris, 1987, between pp. 343-344

Center for African Art (ed.), Perspectives: Angles on African Art, Center for African Art, catalogue, 1987, cover page and p. 60

Jaques Kerchache, Jean-Louis Paudrat and Lucien Stéphan, Art of Africa, New York, 1993, p. 382, fig. 357

Christine Falgayrettes-Leveau and Lucien Stéphan, Formes et Couleurs: Sculptures de l'Afrique Noir, Paris, 1993,  p. 171

David Deroche, "Monumental Miniatures: The Saul and Marsha Stanoff Collection", Tribal Art, 32, Autumn 2003, cover of magazine and p. 69, fig. 14


Maurice de Vlaminck, Paris

By descent through the family

André Fourquet, Paris

Alain de Monbrison, Paris

Acquired from the above, 1980s

*Vänligen notera att att priset inte är omräknat till dagens värde, utan avser slutpriset vid tidpunkten när föremålet såldes.

*Vänligen notera att att priset inte är omräknat till dagens värde, utan avser slutpriset vid tidpunkten när föremålet såldes.