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Bonhams New York sees highest price for a Polynesian piece at auction during Tribal Arts Week
Senufo Rhythm Pounder, Ivory Coast deble. Wood, height 50 1/4in (128cm). Sold for US$ 42,500. Photo: Courtesy of Bonhams.

NEW YORK, NY.- A rare canoe prow from the Maquesas Islands soared past its pre-sale estimate of $8,000-12,000 to sell for $70,900 dollars at Bonhams May 15 African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art auction at the Madison Avenue salesroom. It was the highest price realized for any Polynesian work of art at auction during Tribal Arts Week in New York.

Decorated with a classic Marquesan tiki figure, the wooden prow – or ‘au ‘au – would have been attached to the bow of a canoe. Marquesan ‘au ‘au show carved tiki figures seated and pushed backwards, as if by acceleration, and were primarily intended to be seen in profile as canoes sped through the water.

“This particular Marquesas prow is covered in linear tattooing and has especially naturalistic proportions, including fully articulated legs, which is very rare,” explained Bonhams African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art Consultant, Fredric Backlar. “I always felt strongly that it was an exceptional example, and I am pleased bidders agreed.”

The auction attracted global interest. Europe - particularly Belgium, France and Spain, the Americas, Russia and the Pacific were all represented with the majority of bidders coming from the US. While attendees made a strong showing, telephone and online bidders took home the lion’s share of the top lots.

The Marquesas prow was not the only item to significantly exceed its pre-sale estimate during the auction. A Senufo rhythm pounder from the Ivory Coast realized six times its pre-sale estimate, achieving $42,500 after lengthy bidding. Carved in wood as a female figure, the striking pounder stands over four feet tall.

Other notable results included a rare royal necklace from the Hawaiian Islands made of whale ivory, fiber and human hair that more than doubled its pre-sale low estimate to achieve $25,000, selling to an important European collector. From the African section of the auction, a 10-inch Songye figure more than tripled its pre-sale low estimate, selling for $20,000.

The top lot from the auction’s Pre-Columbian section was a rare gold shark pendant that realized $22,500. Well over 2000 years old, the five-inch pendant would have been created in Costa Rica, or possibly Panama. The finely cast pendant, with articulated fins and eyes as well as loops for suspension, was one of a number of fine jewelry examples offered.

Bonhams next auction of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art will take place in New York in November.

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