Bonhams New York sees highest price for a Polynesian piece at auction during Tribal Arts Week

15 May 2013, African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art
African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art

Bonhams New York sees highest price for a Polynesian piece at auction during Tribal Arts Week

15 May 2013, African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art

NEW YORK — 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.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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