For their second participation in The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) (13-22 March), Didier Claes
will help us discover three masks from the famous collection of Dr. Alex Rafaeli: one previously unshown mask by the "Master of Bouaflé", a Kwélé mask from Gabon along with a Yaouré mask from Ivory Coast.
Here History is written with a capital H: The mask of the "Master of Bouaflé" in fact belonged to one of the greatest figures of modern art: Paul Guillaume (1891-1934), whose dealings included works by Soutine, Modigliani, Derain, Picasso, Matisse and Van Dongen, and who was also a pioneer in the discovery of African art in the West.
As a preview, and exclusively, Didier Claes shows us three masterpieces:
Alex Rafaeli had an extraordinary life, which is the least one can say...
Born in Riga (capital of present - day Latvia) in 1910, he experienced both the last years of the Russian Empire and the 1917 revolution. The eldest son of Communist parents, as a teenager he became deeply persuaded of the need for a Jewish state in Palestine, having been the sad witness of pogroms.
He set foot in Jerusalem for the first time in 1933, and settled there for good in 1954. Between those two dates he travelled a great deal.
Arriving in the United States in 1940, he joined the US army in 1943 and took part in the Normandy landings, a link, for him, with France he spoke fluent French.
His wife, Esther Rafaeli, explains that after settling for good in Israel, he took the time to enlarge his collection of African masks : " He had time to develop his interest in art and to expand our collection of paintings and African masks ", in Rafaeli A Eulology (Colloquium June 17 2007, Weyman Institute, New York).
He would further develop his collection through exhibitions, first in 1953 at the National Museum Bezalel in Jerusalem (that show would subsequently move to Tel Aviv), then, in 1955, at the Museum of Modern Art in Haifa. Featuring in the first of those shows, the three masks which Didier Claes is presenting at the TEFAF were thus part of Alex Rafaelis earliest acquisitions, probably made before the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1939.
This hypothesis is corroborated by the mention, in the catalogues for exhibition, coming from the former collection of Paul Guillaume, for at least one of those pieces.