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WE are all too, too familiar with Clarice’s wall masks but how much more fascinating is Jean Carries’ L’Inconnue de la Seine, the very moving death-mask of a nameless young woman taken in the Paris Morgue, where her body lay, “a suicide who chose death in the waters of the Seine since the burden with which her frail shoulders were laden seemed to her too heavy... her sweet face, lost to the world as if in slumber seems to be listening to an old song, a shy smile flutters flutters about the narrow lips. The face was beautiful, because it smiled, because it smiled deceptively as if it knew.”

Endlessly copied in ceramics, the death mask of the Inconnue was very popular, she was the subject of a 1930s play... which sees a crime and sacrifices herself for the perpetrator, improbably named Albert, by pitching herself into the river with her secret knowledge.

Apart from the dual language aggravation, top of the page in German, bottom in English, the emphasis is on the history of 20th century wall masks in the Federal Republic of Germany and Austria, something not reflected in the book’s title or subtitle.

This book covers an art form which came into being towards the end of the 19th century, created earlier by the sculptor potter Jean Carries (1855-1894). Wall masks of the ’30s and ’40s were very popular in English-speaking countries but also in Austria and Italy and are well documented, while wall masks of the 1950s and ’60s are less so.

Chapters cover the mask, its origins, types and development, with chronological chapters on the ceramic wall mask, including one from the 1960s to the present. There is a section on 30 years of masks from 1948 to 1978 and a section on important designers, while a swathe of colour plates include L’Inconnue and the fine work of Friedrich Goldscheider.

There is a section on marks and signatures, pointers on value and an index of model numbers. A boring introduction dismisses as naive the word “kitsch” to describe the ceramic wall masks of the 1950s and ’60s but this is a useful book for decorative arts and ceramic wall mask collectors and dealers.