Friday, December 23, 2011

The object of the day: 19th-century Tlingit "mosquito mask"

19th century Tlingit "mosquito mask" from the Pacific Northwest, around the border of present-day northern B.C. and southern Alaska. It sold at a Christie's auction December 13, 2011.

It became the focus of an intense bidding war this week at a major auction of aboriginal art in France: a 150-year-old wooden "mosquito mask" from the Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest, a Canadian historical treasure that was expected to fetch about $40,000 but drew a top bid of nearly $400,000 before the hammer finally came down at a Christie's saleroom in Paris.
"The mosquito mask of our sale was an exceptional piece with a rare provenance," said Charles-Wesley Hourde, an aboriginal art specialist at Christie's in Paris.The mask's great age, its "protruding nose and the freshness of the pigments explain the success of the piece," he added. "We had multiple phone bids from American Indian and modern art collectors."

The mosquito mask was worn in ceremonies by a "clown character" who would try to make his audience laugh, said the Christie's sale catalogue.
The mask's vibrant colours were produced with graphite, manganese and red ochre, and "the pigments were ground in stone mortars and mixed with salmon eggs chewed to a smooth paste, resulting in a rich, textured paint."

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