Q: Hi, this is Marc from the Netherlands. I recently bought this Dan runner mask at a local auction house for 200 eur. No provenance. Size 23x13x7cm. It has a small crack.
Very nice shiny patina, looks quite authentic too me. But what does the expert say? Marc, 1638
A: Like most true experts, I know my limitations… especially when asked to authenticate an African mask over the internet. Some of the carvers who specialize in fine reproductions can fool museum curators! Braking all the rules, I will courageously declare this Dan runner mask to be authentic. Look at all three pictures and blow them up as much as you can.
I looked at several of these masks on Google. None of them appeared to be as real as Marc’s. Here is one of the descriptions I found. The 350,000 Dan live in the Northwestern Ivory Coast. They are farmers but have a reputation of being fierce warriors, always battling their neighbors; the We, Guro, and Mano. The masks incarnate the supernatural, spiritual force called ‘Gle’ who lives in the forest. The Gunyege participate in races with the fastest young men of the village. It it believed that the power of the Gle helps its wearer to win. The mask goes to the fastest runner as a trophy.
A+ Warning: this blog is not true provenance.
I’m afraid this is a fake, made for sale.
The uniform patina has been applied to fool the buyer… the interior has been rubbed in the contact spots to simulate what years of wear would do, but without the subtleties of real wear.
Each year fakers gets more skilled
In producing old-looking pieces for the market, and I’m afraid this is one of these – no more than 20 years old and not used in culture.
Thanks for your comment Eric, sounds convincing, but still I have some doubts. I think forgers want to have their mask look like a real old mask. So they don’t create, but mostly copy. The point is that this particular mask is a quite atypical for a running mask. I’ts does’nt look like all the other Dan masks that you’ll find online. Especialy when you have a look an the coiffure. Why would a forger do that ?
This is a replica in the style of a Dan Toura mask, a less common shape but the conical shell motif on the coiffure is a known design, and really here it’s the artificial patina that gives it away as a sure fake.
Also to note, some fakes are indeed just made in a fantasy design, to appeal to collectors who may think it’s unique.
Thanks Eric. Your expertise is always helpful, but not necessarily good news. I guess I got Marc’s hopes up and then let him down. I’ve been buying, selling and writing about masks of the world for over 30 years and still can’t always tell the difference between an authentic African mask and a high quality reproduction made to look old and used.
Hi Bob, yes maybe not great news and yes there are levels of fakery from basic/poor to extremely skilful, often commissioned by unscrupulous galleries and dealers in Europe.
Although 99% are identifiable as real or fake from photographs, some of the best ones really do have to be handled to tell – but not this one.
This has been a great discussion. I’ll try to end with with the reminder that authentic African masks are hard to find and extremely expensive. Don’t think you can get lucky on the Internet and find a real deal. Those days are over.