In a recent collaboration, SGS art experts have worked with art historians and conservators at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met, New York) on a study of a Kru Mask from Ivory Coast.

This mask previously belonged to Pablo Picasso and it is believed to have influenced the construction methods used for his cardboard and mixed media sculpture, Guitar (1912, The Museum of Modern Art, New York).

As a 2016-17 fellow in The Met’s Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas (AAOA), Dr. Joshua Cohen is conducting new research on modernist appropriations of African sculpture. His research has led him to this Kru mask, from Ivory Coast, which dates from around the turn of the 20th century.

SGS‘s art services experts stepped in to perform a full technical study of the mask, including visual inspection, photographic documentation in visible and UV light, documentation under stereomicroscope, digital X-ray radiography, X-ray microfluorescence, and pigment/binder sampling. Conservators and conservation fellows at the Met are working to further analyze the pigment/binder samples collected by SGS.

The crucial issue in this study was to understand the methods and techniques used in the construction of the mask and the composition of its materials. For example, X-radiography has verified the number of pieces of wood used in the mask and how they were assembled with iron nails; and X-ray microfluorescence was used to determine the elemental composition of the pigments. These answers were essential in assessing whether any of the elements was not part of the original artwork.

The results provided by SGS will help Dr. Cohen compare this mask to others from the same period and region, and to better characterize the mask’s influence on the construction techniques used in Picasso’s Guitar. The lab analyses indeed permit Dr. Cohen to clarify his preliminary findings (based solely on visual inspection) presented at the Musée Picasso in Paris in 2016. The overall research project is set to conclude later this year, with publications to follow.

For further information, please contact:

Yan Walther
Managing Director, Art Services
t: +41 22 739 95 49

Valeria Ciocan
Technical Manager, Art Services
t: +41 22 739 92 86


Joshua I. Cohen (PhD Columbia University) is a historian of African art specializing in 20th-century cross-cultural exchange. He is Assistant Professor at The City College of New York, and the 2016-17 Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas (AAOA) at The Met.

Table ronde Primitivisme (min. 31-47)
Joshua I. Cohen. Picasso’s Guitar (1912) and Two Ivoirian Masks

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