A Wonderful Pair of 20thC Composition Plaster Death Masks of African Men

Origin: English, Possibly French
Period: Early/Mid-Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1925-55
Bust No.1: 14” high x 10” deep x 18” wide
Bust No.2: 13.5” high x 10.5” deep x 14” wide
The hugely interesting three quarter bust plaster casts incorporating the death-masks of two African males, possibly related, modeled in composition plaster, weathered and dis-coloured from the elements and in decorative condition.

The busts have condition issues but these only serve to give them a hugely decorative edge. They both have surface dis-colouration with lichen and moss forms having been placed outside at some point in time. As such there are green deposits to the whole and they are still a little damp to the cores. There is a section of loss to one shoulder to one of the busts with both busts having some casting markings, small losses and chips. Overall they remain in decent order if a little soft to the touch.

There is a possibility that these busts are life masks rather than those taken at death but the calmness and serenity that is so apparent here would suggest that life had probably passed, their memory being beautifully upheld. Please see our archive for a pair of life masks of African servants, which were 18thC, and were thus more animated. There are no signatures or marks to provide any further clues but in our experience of sourcing masks we believe these to probably be from the second quarter of the twentieth century.

Death masks are an impression or cast of the face of a deceased person, usually made by oiling the skin and taking a plaster cast of the features, and are the most haunting mementos of the deceased. They have been in existence since the time of Tutankhamun, whose solid gold burial mask is an object of extreme beauty and superstition. Such masks could be used either in a funerary effigy or as a model for a posthumous portrait. It was important that a death mask was made as soon as possible after death so that the character of the deceased was captured before the features started to fall.

Massively intriguing, achingly beautiful.