Lot 149. Ancestor Figure, Takuu Atoll-Ontong Java. Wood, height 17 3/4in (45cm).Sold for US$ 221,000 (€193,706) inc. premium. Photo: Bonhams.

Finely carved, most likely by stone and shell, in overall cubistic form, the oversized head, rounded in the back yet of planar form on the front with the forehead, nose and parted lips on the same plane slightly above the facial plane, slightly raised C-form ears, the neck of diminutive size resting on squared shoulders rounded at the top with each elongated, rounded arm slightly bent at the elbows and resting on the hips, the torso of hourglass form with two slightly raised nipples about midway down the torso, the hips and pelvis area of rounded and bulbous form above rounded, tapering shortened legs which rest on an elliptical, domed base; fine, varied dark-brown patina with overall divots throughout the surface of the figure, but not as evident on the base; collection mark written in white on the back of the base - "79.196/ONTONG JAVA." 

Provenance: Private Collection, New Zealand
Sotheby's, New York, May 25, 1999, Lot 121
Mark and Carolyn Blackburn, Honolulu, Hawaii

Published: Kaeppler, Adrienne, Polynesia: The Mark and Carolyn Blackburn Collection, 2010, fig. 225

NotesFigures from the Polynesian Outliers are exceedingly rare. Perhaps the most recognizable figures from this area are the highly-acclaimed god figures (tino) from the Nukuoro Atoll which are more common than works from Takuu Atoll or Ontong Java. Two similar figures, one described as a deity the other an ancestor, from the Takuu Atoll were accessioned by the Museum Für Völkerkunde, Leipzig in 1911 and are illustrated in Triede [Barbara] In den Weiten des Pazifik Mikronesien, 1997, figs. 178 and 179. Another similar (but much later style) figure in the National Gallery of Australia in 2011 (Accession No: NGA 2011.949) is slightly taller with inlaid shell eyes, carved in a blonde wood ending at the legs, possibly cut down from its original size.

Due to their extreme rarity, ancestor figures from the Polynesian Outliers are some of the most enigmatic works from all of the Pacific. As with the tino ancestor figure from Nukuoro, there is a mysterious physical presence with this sculpture. That many modern artists, including Brancusi and Modigliani, were drawn to these works is understandably clear.