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World auction record for a Sale of Oceanic Art: Triumphant homage to the eye of Murray Frum
New world auction records include Uli Memorial Figure, New Ireland – €1.6 million / $2 million; Maori statue, New Zealand - €1.4 million / $1.8 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

PARIS.- Tuesday’s sale at Sotheby’s Paris of Murray Frum’s collection of Oceanic Art was greeted with lengthy applause, confirming its place as the landmark event which launched the Paris auction season. The record result achieved by the sale is a triumphant homage to the exceptional eye of Murray Frum, who over the course of fifty years brought together one of the world’s most beautiful collections of Oceanic Art, combining extremely rare pieces of remarkable quality with historical provenance. With an auction total of €7,530,838, almost $10 million, this ensemble of just 49 works set a new world auction record for a sale of Oceanic art and confirms Sotheby’s position as leader in this market.

During a hugely successful pre-sale exhibition, 2300 visitors recognized the quality of the works. A majority of lots were the subject of intense bidding, both in the room, on the telephone and online, drawing interest from Europe, the United States and Asia. Those present included both Oceanic art enthusiasts and buyers from across collecting categories.

Speaking after the sale, Jean Fritts, Sotheby’s International Director of the African and Oceanic Art Department commented: “This event is the most important in 40 years to focus entirely on Oceanic art. This evening’s result offers recognition of Murray Frum’s eye. It sets a new reference point in this field and inscribes Oceanic Art as a new area for collecting, beyond conventional boundaries.”

The highest price achieved this evening was for a monumental uli carving from New Ireland . This ancestral image of a powerful clan leader, which includes a rare secondary character, achieved the world auction record for an Uli art work, selling for €1,609,500 ($2,082,194) . Collected before 1908 by Wilhelm Wöstrack, the uli passed into the collection of the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, belonged to the early German collector in this field, Ernst Heinrich, and later to the Swiss surrealist painter and sculptor Serge Brignoni.

The major work from Polynesia was a pou whakairo Maori statue – whose imposing face stands out all the more thanks to the beauty of his tattoos and added hair – considered as the apogee of Maori art. Dating back to the late 18th century, it was acquired by a European collector for €1,441,500 ($1,864,854) , a world auction record for Maori work. It takes its place in the very small corpus of free-standing Maori figures.

Among the other standout Polynesian pieces being offered today was a magnificent sculpture: the head of a “Staff God” ( atua rakau ) from Raratonga in the Cook Islands, which sold for €1,201,500 ($1,554,369) . Formerly in the James Hooper collection, the Frum staff god is one of the few examples to have survived the destruction carried out by John Williams of the London Missionary Society in the 1820s.

A striking example of imunu sculpture by the Iwaino people of Papua New Guinea achieved €373,500 ($483,193) , exceeding the pre-sale high estimate of €250,000. This magnificent example of the dancing spirit figures created in the Gulf of Papua is without equal both in sculptural quality and the expressiveness of the gesture.

Connoisseurs could not fail to see the remarkable quality of an important figurative fly whisk handle, tahiri ra’a , a masterpiece of small scale carving from the Rurutu Islands or Tupua’i, Austral Islands . Having caught the eye of many collectors, it was acquired for more than triple its pre-sale high estimate: €337,500 ($436,620) . The sculpture has a distinguished history, probably collected by a member of the London Missionary Society in the 1820s.

Murray Frum was a Canadian real estate developer. His parents had emigrated to Canada from Poland in 1930, and he grew up in Canada. It was a visit to New York in the late 1950s to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that sparked his passion for collecting. During this visit, he was able to buy a duplicate Egyptian standing figure from the Met's collection. The idea for Murray and his wife that you could own a work of art which was several hundred years old was astonishing. Over the next fifty years, he assembled an extraordinarily diverse collection of African, Oceanic, Pre-Columbian, Silver, Art Deco, and Renaissance art as well as Canadian paintings.

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