Easter Island Pair of Rapa
2017 SOLD for € 3.9M by Sotheby's
Nearly 900 colossal anthropomorphic stone statues delineated and oversaw the playgrounds of the festive ceremonies on Easter Island. Participants used a variety of wood accessories ranging in style from the very fine expression of the ancestral figures to the sublime simplification of the flat paddles of dance including ao and rapa.
The large ao were reserved for dignitaries. Shorter and thinner, rapa were used in pairs by virtuoso dancers who twirled them, one in each hand. They have no equivalent in other tribal cultures. The largest rapa are 1.20 m long.
It was not until 1868 that a marine surgeon on stopover made the first field observations. The wooden object coated in black consisting of two flat blades linked like a dumbbell was known since Cook. Its use in ritual dances and its name in the indigenous language, rapa, are finally known. The abundance of the artifact and of its painted, sculpted or tattooed representations assesses its ritual importance. The central handle has a patina of use.
It is already too late. However in 1886 the rite is mimed for a visitor. The ethnographic description becomes more precise. Each dancer uses a pair, one rapa in each hand, which he twirls at very high speed. The rapa dance chases the evil spirits, but the details of the rite are already lost. Who are the rapa ? How are they paired ? What is their mystical relationship with moai, ua and ao ?
The rapa form a homogeneous crowd, matching a single anthropomorphic model but with varying heights. It is a thin cylinder used as a handle with a flat blade at each end. The upper part has the outline of a head with protuberances for the ear ornaments.
The face is drawn by an incised and whitened double arch forming a superb continuity of the line from nose to ear through eyebrow. The other end, not incised, is the pear shaped abdomen, prolonged by the phallus for the male rapa and by a tiny sex protuberance for the female. Hair, eyes, mouth and limbs are absent.
This object is unique in the world by its use. The anthropomorphic simplification is of great aesthetic efficiency, all the more remarkable as this people was totally isolated from the rest of the world. The balance of the masses must be excellent to ensure the perfection of the dance.
On December 12, 2017, Sotheby's sold for € 3.9M a set of two rapa 78 and 71 cm overall from a lower estimate of € 1M, lot 7. They probably already made a pair before their collection. Only one of them has the phallus.
A 82 cm rapa was sold for € 1.9M by Sotheby's on December 10, 2014 from a lower estimate of € 300K.
Record mondial pour une œuvre île de Pâques. Paire de rapa, 3.876.700 € chez @SothebysFr Comme nous l'écrivions Paris est définitivement capitale des Arts premiers. Démonstration en quelques chefs-d'œuvre ce mardi soir 12 décembre. https://t.co/gCY7iV9hbS pic.twitter.com/7wbQosAsXu— lecurieuxdesarts (@PresseKraemer) December 12, 2017
Easter Island Moai Pa'a Pa'a
2022 SOLD for € 2.8M by Christie's
The word Moai means image. It is also used for small wooden figures. Kavakava refers to a male Moai with a protruding rib cage whose body is very elongated and emaciated, like a hybrid between a being and his skeleton. Kavakava means 'ribs'. The large mesmerizing eyes are made of black obsidian irises inserted in white bone.
The feet are not made for standing. Compared with Mbole figures from Congo which have a similar characteristic, it may be supposed that the iconography of the kavakava symbolizes the moment when the deceased becomes a ghost. Eyewitnesses observed that the dancers hung them to their neck or carried them in their hands as a protection against evil.
Although these pieces respond to a canon, small variations demonstrate that they are not strictly anthropomorphic. A kavakava kept in the museum of La Rochelle has two heads. Other figures may be mixed with bird or eel.
The female equivalent of the kavakava is the pa'a pa'a (also spelled papa). It is rarer than the male with less than 20 of them being identified. The wording Pa'a pa'a refers to the thin smooth torso, in opposition with the ribbed kavakava.
It is gently displayed in an upright position, in full contrast with its highly aggressive male counterpart.
A 52 cm high moai pa'a pa'a was sold for € 2.8M from a lower estimate of € 1.5M by Christie's on June 29, 2022, lot 7. The nude figure has all the female attributes. It bears on its head the glyph mark of a two headed bird. In addition, it has a goatee beard which may be an example of humorous caricature.
1776 Portrait of Omai by Joshua Reynolds
2001 SOLD 10.3 M£ including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
His arrival in London in October 1774 was a social event. Omai is handsome. He has a quick wit and good looks which remain exotic. Celebrated like a prince by the aristocracy, this son of a Polynesian peasant is in England the first living symbol of the myth of the "noble savage" which echoes Rousseau's "bon sauvage".
Joshua Reynolds, the founding president of the Royal Academy, is a painter of worldly portraits. In 1776 at the exhibition of the Academy, he displays among other paintings a portrait of Omai, oil on canvas 230 x 140 cm. The young man is standing in a proud attitude. The clothes are luxurious.
This portrait somehow inaugurates the orientalist painting and its idealism. Reynolds achieves a spectacular effect, without seeking realism. The flowing robe is inspired by the Roman toga and the oriental turban is nothing Polynesian. The landscape behind him is Greek, with a few palm trees.
This artwork is unique in the art of Reynolds, who probably created it especially without commission for the exhibition of 1776 and kept it in his studio until his death. It was sold for £ 10.3M including premium by Sotheby's on November 29, 2001. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
Omai returned to Polynesia with Cook's third voyage.
Uli from Neu Mecklenburg
2016 SOLD for $ 4.7M including premium
The origin of the model is lost in the mists of time. The Uli is essentially a warrior chief with piercing eyes, spectacular beard and protruding sex. His hairstyle as a peak within a frame is a sign of political power. The realization of the Uli is a long process: it is made from the tree planted during the funeral ceremony over the grave of the leader.
The Uli have breasts of women that do not bring a hermaphrodite ambiguity but reinforce the symbol of fertility, meaning the transfer of power by the outstanding deceased chief for the benefit of the living villagers. The male dancers also wear female breasts in wood.
Les Uli are carefully stored away from common people until they are brought out for a new funeral ceremony. This rare opportunity of use probably explains the excellent condition of some pieces. They were discovered too late, in the early twentieth century, to be emasculated by Christian missionaries.
An exceptional Uli is estimated $ 4M by Sotheby's in New York on May 7, lot 8. At 1.52 m high, it is one of the tallest known specimens. Its sculpture is remarkably artistic. An inspection by experts showed that it had been carved with stone blades or animal teeth, before the introduction of the metal in the island. A radiocarbon analysis dated the wood between 1650 and 1800 in our calendar.
Two specimens only have similar features concerning art and age. One is in the Louvre and the other in the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin.
I invite you to watch the video shared by Sotheby's (below).
2021 SOLD for € 3.14M by Christie's
It seems that this island has escaped in the previous century the zeal of the Christian missionaries who destructed the idols. In 1904, some settlers were amazed by the discovery of Uli art in the center of the island. They collected many pieces and had the chance to witness the creation of a statuette, but the rite ceased to be performed soon after 1905.
All Uli are implemented on a single generic model, with however some significant variations. More than 200 have been preserved. These large anthropomorphic statues up to 1.40 m high accompany the funeral feasts of chiefs that last throughout a full year. The Uli are not portraits and are carefully handled so that they can be reused.
He is a powerful protector warrior, challenging against the enemy, with a prominent sex, piercing eyes and a broad predatory grin. The hypothesis of hermaphrodite features is now rejected.
On June 23, 2021, Christie's sold a 66 cm high Uli for € 3.14M from a lower estimate of € 600K, lot 23. This specimen is a black Uli, with a thick layer of soot due to an exposition of many decades to the smoke while waiting for the ceremonies inside an inhabited room. They were recoated in lime before use, providing overall a complex patina. Another black Uli has been dated to the 18th century in a carbon 14 analysis.
On September 16, 2014, Sotheby's sold for € 1.6M from a lower estimate of € 700K a Uli 1.40m tall, lot 32. This Wostrack-Krämer specimen addresses together the name of the first German collector and of a scholar traveler who described it as a masterpiece in 1908. Please watch the pre-sale video featuring the three masterpieces of the Frum collection.
The extremely rare feature of this statue is its double figure: the great Uli holds on his torso another figure three times smaller than him, complete with the same attributes. This Uli brings the evidence that the idealized figure is not a portrait but a symbol of strengths and virtues. The small novice successor of the deceased chief will have to sustain all these qualities.
< 1819 The Guardian of the Taboos
2017 SOLD for € 6.3M including premium
When James Cook visits Hawaii in 1778, the territory is divided. He meets Kalani'opu'u, the king of Kona district. In the following year a violent quarrel with that king results in the murder of the captain. Kalani'opu'u died in 1782, leaving the political power to a son and the religious power to his nephew Kamehameha who thus became the high priest of the god of war Ku also known as Ku Ka'ili Moku.
With this terrifying support Kamehameha manages to conquer the entire territory of Hawaii and starts a dynasty that will last until 1872. He builds for Ku large temples populated by statues with various ritual roles.
A complex social system named Kapu based on taboos protected the elites against middlemen and slaves. When Kamehameha dies an octogenarian in 1819 his favorite wife becomes queen and regent. Women had in the Kapu a subsidiary role that did not please the new regent. She forces the young Kamehameha II to abolish Kapu and to destroy temples and idols. English travelers will manage in the 1820s to collect a few pieces that escaped the iconoclasts, so being the ultimate symbols of a frightening pagan mythology.
On November 21 in Paris, Christie's sells as lot 153 a 53 cm high statuette of Ku made during the reign of Kamehameha I. It had been detached from a column on which it had served as a guardian in a temple or a necropolis.
The head is oversized above the muscular body whose attitude is powerful. The broad mouth shaped as a horizontal eight is fitted with teeth throughout its perimeter in an expression of total ferocity that suited Kamehameha I's ambitions.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's.
La vente de la collection d'art tribal de Pierre Vérité a rencontré un grand succès hier soir, avec l'adjudication d'une statuette de divinité hawaïenne pour 6 345 000 euros #ArtTribal #CollectionVerite #ChristiesParis #AuctionResult pic.twitter.com/eCLJpiQgx4— Christie's Paris (@christiesparis) November 22, 2017
Sepik Hooked Figure
2022 SOLD for € 5.1M by Christie's
The yipwon is the subject of wood figures in various scales from neck pendant to life size. It is kept hidden inside the house. Each statue is supposed to communicate with one male human through trance and dream and must not be seen by the women. These secret figures were not revealed to the public until 1960.
These anthropomorphic figures reach a high level of abstraction, including the pattern of hooked ribs around the spine.Their single leg that may be in a bent position is not suited to stand alone.
A colored yipwon 171 cm high with a realistic male head and a straight leg was sold for € 240K by Sotheby's on December 3, 2009, lot 22.
A monoxyle yipwon 166 cm high with a straight leg and an abstract head fitted with a cassowary's crest was sold for € 5.1M from a lower estimate of € 1.5M by Christie's on June 29, 2022, lot 9.
The Biwat Rooftop Keeper
2013 SOLD 2.5 M€ including premium
The two most spectacular forms are the flute stopper and the roof figure. In both cases, they show fierce characters. The flute expresses the sound of the spirit of the dead, and its stopper reinforces the illusion by representing a terrible head wearing heavy hairdressing.
The Biwat perched large statues atop their roofs. Halfway between humans and animals, they look like gods more than like ancestors.
On June 19, 2013, Christie's sold for € 2.5M from a lower estimate of € 750K a very fine example of roof figure 106 cm high. The seated position is human but the fierce gaze and the shape of the nose are not. The head is large and the body is stretched: the anonymous artist appreciated that such a composition enhances the power when the statue, in its normal use, is observed from the ground. Their role was to protect against evil spirits and enemies.
The weather in New Guinea is not favorable to the conservation of objects, but this one is remarkable and even maintained much of its original polychromy.
A male figure 49 cm high with a disproportionate head was sold for $ 2.1M by Sotheby's on May 14, 2010.. The rugged features are embellished with many ornaments made of various shells and of human teeth and hair, including tiara, earrings and nose jewelry. To this height, we must add a rich cap for which the cassowaries have left their feathers. This piece had been collected before 1900 on the banks of a tributary of the Sepik River.
A Biwat flute stopper 46 cm high was sold for € 1.64M by Christie's on June 23, 2021, lot 61.
2021 SOLD for € 2.2M by Christie's
They have distinctive features in the tattooed face and the hair. The Maori people of New Zealand were keen about genealogy. It was necessary to recognize the glorious ancestor to better honor him or her. They were made before the 1840s.
A 39 cm male retaining a long and thick hair was sold for € 1.44M by Sotheby's on September 16, 2014, lot 10.
A 37 cm female without hair was sold for € 2.2M from a lower estimate of € 400K by Christie's on June 23, 2021, lot 21.
collected in 1877 Micronesian Mask
2021 SOLD for € 9.2M by Christie's
Life conditions were harsh for the islanders, numbered 765 in a 1909 census. For saving the plantations from the ravaging winds, they call for the help of the spirits of the ancestors. Their black and white masks are ghost like with a superb minimalism of the face lines.
The early European travelers did not see the masks. In 1877 a planter managed to supply Micronesian artifacts to a museum in Hamburg. They included a Nomoi mask, which was soon transferred to another museum in Dresden and went into private hands by an exchange in 1975. This figure with an oblique bun over its left side is representing a tribal leader. The chin is underlined by a sort of black beard.
This mask was sold for € 9.2M from a lower estimate of € 500K by Christie's on June 23, 2021, lot 22.
An ethnographer observes in 1910 that the masks are danced by couples, man and woman, who are fighting the winds with clubs. Nine new built masks are commissioned and collected by this traveler.