Absolutely Beautiful 1930s Goebels Painted Ceramic Wall Mask of L'Inconnue de la Seine


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THE STORY - I knew the story of L'Inconnue de la Seine (The Unknown Woman of the Seine) and had seen photos of these wall masks of her face, so when my eyes fell upon this one in an Auction Catalogue my heart was instantly won. Never before had I seen one of these wall masks painted, and when I got her and opened up the packaging I confess, I gasped at her beauty. It is widely spoken that this wall mask was modelled from a death mask made by a Pathologist at a Paris Morgue after the body of a young woman was dragged from the Seine in 1880. Apparently there was no trauma to the girl's body so it was a suspected suicide, but the Pathologist was so struck and touched by the sheer beauty of her face he instantly created a death mask of her face. There are other stories though, one that she was the daughter of a German Mask Manufacturer another that she was the model of the Painter Jules Joseph Lefebevre who died from TB. And there are arguments still going on today whether this could possibly be the face of a girl in death as there is a firmness and fullness to her skin. For me it is the fact that the sheer beauty of this face has created so many enduring myths and stories that is the real romance of this piece. This mask interestingly looks to be made from terracotta and carries on the back the makers mark for Goebel dating it to between 1935 and 1949, but I cannot find another example where the mask has been painted like this one. The paint is so fine and for me the colour of the face is very reminiscent of the colour of wax, it has been so finely applied, possibly sprayed or dipped but I think not painted and I still cannot make up mind whether the faintest touch of darker paint has been used to highlight the shadows of her face or whether it simply natural shadows formed by the contours of the face. The hair is of a chestnut red colour and that I am pretty certain has been painted. She carries on the back as well as the Goebel's trademark a model number which looks like 'fX 20 1', fX 20 is I believe the model number for this mask, but it is impossible to be certain and the string from which to hang her from, which to me looks an awful lot younger than the 1930s, but I would still check its strength before hanging her or replace with new.

AGE - 1935-1949

CONDITION - The mask is in very good condition. There is some fading/marking to her hair, which I have to say I really quite like which I hope you can see in the photographs. There are two marks on her face, one a tiny mark on the side of her nose best seen in the second photo and one to her chin which is best seen in the sixth photo. I am sure the paint must have darkened with age, but if it has it has done so beautifully. There is only one tiny chip that I can see and that may just be to the paint of the hair on the back of the mask which can just be seen in the seventh photo.

DIMENSIONS (Approx) - Height 5&1/2" / 14cm, Width 5&1/8" / 13cm, Depth 2" / 5cm

Apparently Artists in Bohemian Paris would purchase these models of the mask of L'Inconnue de la Seine placing them on their walls and I have to say I can certainly see this mask in that contex, she certainly is about the right age. But whatever is the truth of the young girl behind the mask, it appears to have been lost to time but what has not been lost to time is the power of the beauty of her face. I have loved photographing her and I am just so very thankful that I came across her, she is for me a very, very special example of Goebel's Mask model number fX20!

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