New Ireland Tatanua Mask Christie’s London 19 June 1979, Lot 74Ex. James Hooper Collection, Acquired Kingston, Surrey, 1922 Here is another superb New Guinea object from the primarily Polynesian art collector James Hooper offered by Christie’s London in 1979. Tatanua masks from New Ireland are known for their extravagant crested tops and elaborately carved wooden faces. Yet this example hints at restraint. The crest is modest in height, with the coconut fiber tufts of the central ridge somewhat tempered with age. The spikes however are longer than usual, suggesting a powerful bite notwithstanding the aged exterior. The wooden face is beautifully rendered with a minimum of frills. The forehead is sold and powerful. The eyes are deep-set with shell opercula. I love the way the painted design mimics the curve of the nose. The back of the face gently curves on this example while the vast majority of others have a somewhat boxy appearance. The jaw projects forward with the lower section seemingly extended a bit further. There is a perfect, intense expression. All business. Zero decadence. A truly early and beautiful example. In the auction catalog’s description the Hooper inventory number 1073 is listed and the provenance given: Acquired Kingston, Surrey, 1922. The mask is assuredly late 19th century, possibly pre-1880. It sold for a not inconsequential 1100 British pounds—which converted into today’s dollars equals $9500. I consider that quite the steal. I applaud the shrewd buyer and whoever happens to be the present collector owns one of the finest tatanua masks in existence.