Present all over the world, Polynesian works of art expose our culture and allow it to shine far beyond our islands. Discover this chief’s no’oanga, a superb 19th century stool from the island of Rurutu. It was recently sold at auction at Sotheby’s Paris for a million Euros!
Recently many people have asked me, how is it possible that somebody, in their right mind, would pay ONE MILLION EUROS for a small wooden stool from Rurutu? For those of you, who do not know what I am talking about; on June 22th 2016 Sotheby’s, Paris, sold an early 19th Century no’oanga (a chief’s stool) coming from the Austral Island of Rurutu in French Polynesia. This piece was estimated 500,000-700,000 Euro. The hammer price was 900,000 Euros plus Sotheby’s commission, which brought the total price up to 1,083,000 Euros. I personally thought that it would sell for more…
Joseph Banks, the young very wealthy English botanist, paid 10,000 pounds to sail with Captain James Cook on his first voyage of enlightenment to the Pacific. In 1769, Cook and Banks discovered the island of Ohitiroa (long side), which the indigenes and their neighbors called Rurutu. Banks wrote: “Of the few things we saw among these people every one was ornamented infinitely superior to anything we had seen before.”
But, what are the important factors which determine the price of an object? First, the rarity of the piece in question: this is one of only seven known no’oangas. Second, the quality of the piece: this most elegant stool was cut from a solid block of wood. The legs have hemispherical feet and the ends of the seat have a most elegant everted curve. This masterpiece was carved with stone tools and shells. To accomplish the magnificent reddish brown patina, the surface must have been polished with sand and oil. This no’oanga was sculpted out of Calophyllum Inophyllum (Guttiferae Family), the Polynesians call this tree either tamanu or ati. It’s totally modern design reveals the avant-garde Polynesian techniques for that time and the purity of its lines, this is what makes it so very special. Third, the provenance of the piece. In 1821 the London Missionary Society decided to send a Deputation of two (Reverend Daniel Tyerman and a layman George Bennet of Sheffield, England,) around the world to report on the progress made in the mission fields.
From 1821 to 1829, Tyerman and Bennet traveled an amazing 90,000 miles, passing some three years in Polynesia. On September 30, 1822, Tyerman, Bennet and William Ellis (a missionary from Hawaii) arrived on Rurutu. Having survived the dangerous landing, they were welcomed by King Teuruarii (” aged about eighteen “), his queen, and the infant, their son – and by all the people of Rurutu, about three hundred individuals. The Rurutuans gave Bennet this no’oanga. On October 4th they returned to their base in Huahine (Society Islands.) Two days later Bennet wrote on the underside of this no’oanga, “Geo Bennet, Oct 6 1822 Rurutu made” (Montgomery 1831) This proves to me that he wanted to keep this piece in his collection, permanently. In 2006 this piece was exhibited in Norwich, England at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Pacific Encounters, Art and Divinity in Polynesia. Than in 2008, this piece was exhibited in Paris at the musée du quai Branly, Polynésie, Arts et Divinités 1760-1860. This Polynesian Masterpiece was purchased over the telephone, by an extremely happy private European Collector.
Laurance Alexander Rudzinoff