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Polynesian Resource Center

Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Polynesian Art and Culture

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Masterpieces of Old Polynesia - Superb Maori Figure - Private Collection

Masterpieces of Old Polynesia - Superb Maori Figure - Private Collection

Roger Neich believed this intricately detailed figure more than likely decorated the side of a gourd or hue and localised the carving to the Rougowkakaata tribal style, around where present-day Gisborne now stands. It emerges from a vertical curved panel which is why Neich plumbed for a gourd decoration, a seated tiki figure with finely carved facial moko, the eyes inset with black lip oyster shell. It stands only 14cm or 5 1/2 inches tall, and perhaps it is this diminutive size that allowed the carver to abandon standard representations of male figures and create such an unusual figure.

Masterpieces of Old Polynesia - The Beasley Pae Manu or Maori Bird Perch

Masterpieces of Old Polynesia - The Beasley Pae Manu or Maori Bird Perch

Harry Beasley, the former owner described this piece as an example 'of the highest workmanship of the Maori' which is very true. The purpose of these rare objects which is as a perch for a tame bird is interesting, the main question being why were they carved in such a superb manner if they were just a bird perch for a pet? Below is the very well researched catalogue entry from the Frum Sale at Sotheby's and begging your patience we promise to have more to say following this description.

Masterpieces of Polynesia – U'a - Easter Island Staff Club

Masterpieces of Polynesia – U'a - Easter Island Staff Club

Of the three different types of Janus headed Polynesian staff clubs; the Maori Taiaha , the Marquesan U'u and the Easter Island U'a, the Easter island version is undoubtedly the least impressive. The Marquesan U'u is a massive object but beautifully and finely carved, this contrast of size and delicacy making it particularly and uniquely attractive. While the Maori Taiaha is fine , long and thin, and elegant object with its twin carved terminal faces are successfully designed to be frightening. In handling it has more the feel of a two handed sword, designed for speed and agility.

Mackintosh from The Trembling of a Leaf by W. Somerset Maugham

Mackintosh from The Trembling of a Leaf by W. Somerset Maugham

He splashed about for a few minutes in the sea; it was too shallow to swim in and for fear of sharks he could not go out of his depth; then he got out and went into the bath-house for a shower. The coldness of the fresh water was grateful after the heavy stickiness of the salt Pacific, so warm, though it was only just after seven, that to bathe in it did not brace you but rather increased your languor; and when he had dried himself, slipping into a bath-gown, he called out to the Chinese cook that he would be ready for breakfast in five minutes. He walked barefoot across the patch of coarse grass which Walker, the administrator, proudly thought was a lawn, to his own quarters and dressed.

Masterpieces of Polynesian Art – William Hodges – Tahiti Revisited

Masterpieces of Polynesian Art – William Hodges – Tahiti Revisited

This series of short articles; The Masterpieces of Polynesian Art, written primarily as a vehicle to introduce novices to the Art of Polynesian and to promote an understanding of Polynesian Asethetics took a sudden shift about eight months after I had started writing them. After some hesitation I decided that to truly understand the story of Polynesia and Polynesian Art it was nessessary to include the art of Europeans, because Europeans are central to understanding the story of Polynesia and its tragedy. Europeans were very much part of the tragedy, but to be fair  many Europeans in their struggle to comprend Polynesia and Polynesians contributed a great deal to Polynesian History, in fact our knowledge of Polynesia would be minimal without the writings, researches and observations of those early Europeans.

Masterpieces of Old Polynesia -  Moai Kava Kava at Te Papa Museum

Masterpieces of Old Polynesia - Moai Kava Kava at Te Papa Museum

Apart from the famous giant Moai statues, the little wooden moai kava kava sculptures are the most famous works of art from Easter Island. These carvings have a interesting history and provide a fine example of how current scientific theories contamiate art history. Following the broad adoption of the theory of the social collapse of Easter Island society due to ecological overstretch, these little images suddenly came to represent emaciation caused by stavation. Fortunetely good sense prevailed and the current view is that rather than emaciation, the figures portray the cadavers of deceased ancestors, manipulated in secondary burial rites. In other words they represent the rotting carcases of ancestors. Although this may sound goulish this is entirely in keeping with the burial customs of Eastern Polynesia.

Masterpieces of Polynesian Art - Hawaiian Pendant - Metropolitan Museum

Masterpieces of Polynesian Art - Hawaiian Pendant - Metropolitan Museum

Part of the very small collection of Hawaiian Art in the Metropolitan Museum, it was bought in the London Salerooms of Sotheby's in 1961 by Nelson Rockefeller and was donated to the museum in 1979. It is one of the greatest masterpieces of Hawaiian Art a fact largely unrecognized due to its tiny size and the fact of thats its existance within the Metropolitan Museum is slightly oddball being not really part of a significant Hawaiian Collection and subsequently buried in a mass of great art inside one of the greatest museums in the world. It is catalogued as 18th–19th century, its size is H. 2 3/8 x W. 1 1/2 x D. 1 3/4 in. (6 x 3.8 x 4.5 cm) and is made of whalebone.

Masterpieces of Polynesia - John Webber - Chief of Bora Bora December 1777

Masterpieces of Polynesia - John Webber - Chief of Bora Bora December 1777

In this series on Masterpieces of Old Polynesia I have continued to include European works which may seem strange, but our understanding of Polynesia tends to be crushed into a very limited period  of the Contact Period and for the sixty or so years that followed. Europeans for better or worse greatly influenced our understanding of Polynesia and that understanding is something we continue to unpick, often very unfairly in the false light of Revisionists History. At its best Revisionist versions of history can revolutionise our understanding of past events, but equally can be simply a replication of the faults it seeks to correct, merely a change in the angle of bias, but then really  good historians have always been very rare beasts.

Masterpieces of Old Polynesia – Prow Figure Portrait of the Great Warrior Te Rauparaha

Masterpieces of Old Polynesia – Prow Figure Portrait of the Great Warrior Te Rauparaha

This carved image of the great Maori warrior Te Rauparaha (1760s – 1849) was sketched by George French Angas in 1844 at Porirua Harbour (northwest coast of the North Island of New Zealand) when the image was still fixed in Te Rauparaha's canoe.

Masterpieces of Old Polynesia – Maori Preserved Head

Masterpieces of Old Polynesia – Maori Preserved Head

We should start by making no bones about the fact that treating a 19th century preserved Maori head as an art masterpiece is sure to distress some and disgust others, but the fact is that beyond thos object being human remains it is Art and it is a Masterpiece of Maori Art. This head is most likely to be a trophy of war sold to a white trader or passing sailor for the price of one used musket. On occainsions the head of a slave would be tattooed and when the swelling subsided he would be shot and his head preserved and sold. In this case the quality of the tattoo precludes this possibility.

Masterpieces of Polynesian Art - A'a The Rurutuan God – British Museum

Masterpieces of Polynesian Art - A'a The Rurutuan God – British Museum

This carving is possibly the the most famous image in Polynesian Art, though this should be qualified by the term individual carving, as the Easter Island Stone Moai are far better know but they are famous as a group of carvings. However in dealing with this image, which is undeniably a masterpiece, I would argue that it is a World Masterpiece like no other, being in effect a permanent prisoner of war and the greatest surviving relic of the annihilation of a culture.

Masterpieces of Old Polynesia – Aumakua - Hawaiian Family God – Formerly George Ortiz

Masterpieces of Old Polynesia – Aumakua - Hawaiian Family God – Formerly George Ortiz

This little wooden 26 cm 18th century Hawaiian figure Ex collection: Earls of Warwick, Warwick Castle, George Ortiz (1973-1978) and Count Jean-Jacques de Launoit (1978-1981) is one of the most potent and remarkable images in Hawaiian Art. I have included the below description from the current owner because it is interesting to have the opinion of someone who has been in possession of an object for over twenty years. Following his contibution I have more to say on this remarkable object.

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