An exquisitely carved Tobacco God figure is set to headline the Aboriginal Art auction at Sotheby’s London on March 14.
The piece was produced on the Torres Strait islands, to the north of Australia.
Torres Strait Islanders are ethnically distinct from Australian Aborigines, but share certain elements of culture and language.
This figure was made to watch over tobacco crops
This carving, known as a Sokop Madub, was designed to protect the islanders' precious tobacco crop.
It would have been placed nearby to watch over the plants and ensure they grew to harvest. As well as having a ritual significance, tobacco was a key trading material.
Sotheby’s African and Oceanic art researcher Amy Bolton comments: “This figure is significant not only for its traditional use within the fields of tobacco; it also demonstrates the remarkable skill of the sculptors within the Torres Straits to create characteristic contours, meaningful expression and pleasing form, seamlessly uniting function and beauty.”
The piece was brought to the UK by a missionary - the Reverend Henry Moore Dauncey - who travelled to the island in the late 1880s.
When Dauncey died in 1932, he left much of his collection (including this piece) to the Walsall Public Library.
The library sold this item in 1967. This time around it’s valued at up to £100,000 ($142,066).
Bolton said: “The remarkable provenance of this charm, reaching back 130 years, only strengthens its exceptional history and makes it all the more important and unique.”
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