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African Art

Ngil Initiation Mask

late 19th century

Wood, pigment, and nails

16 1/4 × 8 13/16 × 7 1/2 in. (41.2 × 22.4 × 19 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
Fang masks in various styles became principle icons for twentieth-century primitivism in modern art and were highly sought after by collectors. This work was part of a major gift to the Yale University Art Gallery in 2006 of 586 works of tradition-based African art from the estate of Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933. Benenson’s important collection is very distinctive, reflecting his personal taste for bold, aggressive, and unusual pieces. It also included an impressive inventory of works whose ingenious sculptural form would have inspired early European modern artists. Amassed largely in the 1970s and 1980s, at the pinnacle of the African art market in the United Stated, Benenson’s collection vividly documents what kinds of artworks circulated at the time.
On view
19th century

“Mr. Laporte,” Créon, Gironde, France [see note 1]; sale, Flagel-Portier, Hotel Drouot, Paris, December 7, 1926 lot 51 (Frs. 1,750.-); sold to “Mr. Lefebvre” [see note 2]. Entwistle and Co. (Lance and Roberta Entwistle, dealers), London, by 1982; sold to Charles B. Benenson (1913–2004), Greenwich, Conn., 1982; bequeathed to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 2004

Note 1: According to the December 7, 1926, Hotel Drouot sale minutes within the Archives de Paris, copies of which are in the curatorial object file. Mr. Laporte almost certainly refers to Monsieur Laporte, “Grand Propriétaire, Château Neuf, Créon.” (Annuaire de la Gironde et des départements circonvoisins, 76e année, 1927, Bordeaux: Gounouilhou, 1927)

Note 2: According to the December 7, 1926, Hotel Drouot sale minutes within the Archives de Paris, copies of which are in the curatorial object file. The identity of “Mr. Lefebvre” is at present unconfirmed.

The Gallery is grateful to Msr. Vincent Tuchais for facilitating access to the Archives de Paris.


“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Frederick John Lamp, Amanda Maples, and Laura M. Smalligan, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 123, ill.

Flagel-Portier, Paris, Art Primitif, Afrique, sale cat. (December 7, 1926), lot 51, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.