The 21½in (55cm) high, distinctively shaped carved wood and white kaolin covered mask with plant fibre beard dates from the late 19th century. It would have been worn by a member of the Ngil secret society, a group who travelled through villages searching for troublemakers, including those suspected of witchcraft, and administering justice in Fang communities.
Such masks are rare survivors (half the known examples are now in museums) because the traditional rites of customary justice in Ngil society were discontinued in the 1920s.
The mask to be offered by the Hôtel des Ventes Montpellier is known as the Gouverneur Fournier mask, a reference to Governor René-Victor Edward Maurice Fournier (1873-1931) in whose family it has descended until the present day. Fournier pursued a career in Africa and in August 1908 was appointed to Dakar where he remained until 1917.
Director of the cabinet of the General Government of French West Africa, he was then appointed 2nd Class Governor on September 26, 1916, and met the ethnographer Maurice Delafosse who introduced him to African art. On May 20, 1917, Fournier was appointed lieutenant-governor of Moyen-Congo. As part of the entourage of Gabriel Angoulvant, governor of French Equatorial Africa at the time, he was very likely to have been called to several missions in Gabon.
The mask has an estimate of €300,000-400,000.
Friend of artists
The same auction will also include a group of 80 items from the collection of Jeanne Tachard (1837-1963), a French milliner and collector who knew many artists from the Art Deco era. She was a patron of the interior designer Pierre Legrain and a close friend of the couturier Jacques Doucet.
Items in the Tachard collection, which have been consigned by the children of her adopted son Bernard Segond, range from African and Asian works of art to paintings and furnishings by Art Deco designers.
Pictured here is one of Tachard’s African pieces, a curved and studded chair from the Ngombe people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has an estimate of €8000-15,000. The form inspired a curved seat produced by Pierre Legrain for Jacques Doucet that is now in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.