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|MAORI AUCTION RECORD AT SOTHEBY'S|
A carved wood figure of a Maori chief from the 1840s sold for $1 million, a record price for Oceanic art, at Sotheby's New York on Nov. 22, 1998. Sotheby's African and Oceanic art auction sold 151 of 265 lots (about 57 percent) for a total of just over $6 million. Top lot was a Kongo figure that sold to a European dealer for $1.4 million (est. $800,000-$1,200,000). In addition, some 123 lots from the Foundation of Dr. Edmund Müller sold for a total of almost $1.6 million.
The nearly life-size Maori figure has glaring shell eyes and an elaborately tattooed face, and bears a high-gloss varnish finish that is atypical for primitive art. The sculpture originally served as part of a post in a meeting house on the New Zealand coast. The 19th-century British missionary Bishop William Williams, who translated the New Testament into Maori and wrote a Maori dictionary, obtained the figure, probably as a gift. It was eventually sold at Christie's London in 1978 for $110,000 to Philippe-Guy E. Woog, a Swiss inventor who was the current seller.
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