New Ireland uli figure realises 66.6% increase on estimate at Sotheby's

A rare New Ireland uli figure has made $2m in Sotheby's sale of the Frum collection of Oceanic art in Paris, an increase of 66.6% on the $1.2m estimate.

The auction took place on September 16, netting $9.4m.

uli figure Sothebys
Uli figures were used in fertility rites on New Ireland

It's one of a handful of pieces referred to as "selamlungin antelou", which depict a large figure holding a smaller one aloft. It was produced on New Ireland - which neighbours Papua New Guinea in the Bismarck Archipelago.

Augustin Kramer, head of the German Naval Expedition in the region during the early 1900s, acquired it circa 1904-1908.

He was clearly enamoured of the work, writing in 1925: "The art of the Bismarck Archipelago is the pinnacle of the development of original art on earth."

The uli was traditionally used in a rite involving the exhumation of bodies. The spirit of a recently departed chief would be compelled to enter the figure to aid the future prosperity of the tribe.

The head of a staff god from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands also sold well, achieving $1.5m.

The lot is one of only a handful to have escaped the "fires of infamy" - the burning of the figures by missionaries from Britain during the 19th century.

Of the 17 or so that survived, the majority were sawn in half.

This was partly to aid their repatriation to London and partly to remove the erect phallus, which the missionaries clearly felt was a bit much.

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