Tlingit 'mosquito mask' sells for $365,000 at Christie's auction

A 150-year-old aboriginal "mosquito mask" from the Tlingit North American First Nations tribe has smashed its estimate at auction in France.

The wooden mask, produced by the Tlingit people of the Pacific coastal border of Canada and Alaska, sold for €277,000 to a European collector at Christie's Paris on December 13.

It had come to auction with a high-end estimate of just €50,000, evidence of the strong market for fine aboriginal pieces.

The mask, designed to resemble a mosquito rather than ward them off, would have been worn in ceremonies in an attempt to raise a smile, Christie's states.

tlingit mosquito mask
The mask was designed to produce mirth at ceremonies

It had arrived in a US museum in 1949 before selling in a private deal in 1970.

The item's "protruding nose and the freshness of the pigments explain the success of the piece," Christie's aboriginal art specialist, Charles-Wesley Hourde, told Canada's Vancouver Sun newspaper.

The sale has again highlighted the plight of many First Nations peoples; several tribes are struggling with poverty and addiction, and seldom benefit directly from such sales.

John Ward, a spokesman for the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, told the newspaper that past generations of collectors had "helped themselves" to artefacts.

Tlingit pieces have been big sellers in the past, despite their controversial nature.

A late 18th or early 19th century carved spear thrower sold for $361,596 at Christie's in 1999, while a ceremonial rattle, carved to resemble a raven, achieved $62,500 with the same auction house in January 2011.

Paul Fraser Collectibles will bring you further news from the world of aboriginal art throughout the course of 2012.

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