Lot 12
  • 12

Maori Door Jamb, New Zealand

80,000 - 100,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Wood
  • Height: 45 1/4 in (115 cm)

Printed 'Webster Collection' label with number '1128' in ink to the reverse


Leeds City Museum, Leeds
Kenneth Athol Webster, London, acquired from the above on May 7, 1952 (Inv. No. 1128)
Leendert Van Lier, Amsterdam, acquired from the above
Christie's, Amsterdam, African, Oceanic and Indonesian Art from the Van Lier Collection, April 15, 1997, lot 244
Private collection, acquired at the above auction

Catalogue Note

The entrances of important Maori buildings, such as the wharenui, or communal house, usually received elaborately carved architectural elements, such as this door jamb, or whakawae. Steven Hooper suggests that an analogy can be made between the carving which frames the entrance to such a building and ta moko, the Maori art of tattooing, around the mouth, nose, eyes, and ears. (Hooper 2006: 127).

The creation of the carvings for an important and sacred building was in itself a very important event, during which the carving experts, tohunga whakairo, were placed under tapu, a term meaning "'marked', 'contained', 'restricted' or 'set apart'." (ibid.: 37; see Shore 1989: 137-174 for a discussion of this complex subject). The carver was not be approached whilst working as his entire focus had to be dedicated to the carving at hand, and ensuring that no mistakes were made. Food could not be eaten near the carvings, due to the cultural prohibition against combining sacred objects with food, and for the same reason chips and shavings of wood from the carving could not be burnt on a cooking fire. This 'waste' could not be blown off by the carver as he worked, but rather had to be brushed away.

The sacred and emblematic character of the building meant than it had to be protected from undesirable forces, and the two superposed anthropomorphic guardian figures which emerge from the moulded flowing lines of the curvilinear motifs served as the protectors of the wharenui and the people inside it.

This door jamb was formerly in the collection of Kenneth Athol Webster (1906-1967) one of the great English collector dealers, noted particularly for his collection of Maori objects. Webster's purchase ledger, now in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, records his acquisitions between 1937 and 1952. Number 1128, the present lot, was one of a group of objects Webster acquired from the Leeds City Museum on May 7, 1952. He subsequently sold the piece to the Dutch painter, collector, and dealer Leendert van Lier.