Death mask of Russian dictator sells at Suffolk auction
- Credit: Archant
A death mask modelled on the face of Joseph Stalin, has fetched four times its asking price when it went under the hammer at auction.
The eerie mask, which captures the late leader’s most distinctive features, such as his characteristic thick, swept-back hair and heavy moustache, was estimated to go for £3,000-£5,000 but eventually sold for £11,000 to an online bidder.
It was formed from Stalin’s face just hours after the ruthless ruler of the Soviet Union died from a brain haemorrhage in March 1953 at the age of 74.
The mask was sold at Lockdales, of Martlesham, and auctioneer and managing director Daniel Daley, said: “We had a huge amount of interest in the item prior to the sale.
“It’s a very rare item as it’s believed that only 12 casts captured Stalin’s face at the time of his death.
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“The mask created a real stir in the saleroom and online, with bidding quickly running up into thousands.
“When it sold there was an audible gasp went around our saleroom.”
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The model of the dictator, who is thought to be responsible for an estimated 20 million deaths during his 30-year rule of the Soviet Union, is cast in bronze, measuring 31 x 22cm in diameter.
Alongside the mask are accompanying bronze casts of Stalin’s hands, one of which is withered as a consequence of a horse-riding accident he suffered when young.
Antiques specialist Alan McIlwain who attended the auction, said: “This piece is really special because it is very rare. It’s also a lovely size and is great quality.
“The price was very fair for such a piece, it was a good auction.”
The item would have been made shortly after Stalin’s death by taking a plaster cast of his face – before creating a mould which was then filled with molten bronze and left to set.
Such masks were not uncommon in Russia during the mid-20th century and were used as mementos of the dead by the wealthy and the powerful.
Other items sold at the auction include a gentleman’s Rolex watch with a blue and white ‘Pepsi’ bezel which was sold for £17,000.
A 3.5 carat solitaire diamond ring sold for £8,400 and another Russian artefact, a Fabergé solid gold table box with an Imperial Russian 1st class medal for ‘Zeal’, sold for £13,000.