Lot 111
  • 111

Ancestor Figure, New Ireland

120,000 - 180,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • wood, turbo pentholatus
  • Height: 50 in (127 cm)
the back inscribed in white ink 'RME 434', partially illegible (Rietberg Museum inventory number); back of proper right leg inscribed in pencil '161' (Flechtheim exhibition number)

forepart of feet restored


Presumably collected in situ in Lamasong
J.F.G. Umlauff, Hamburg
Eduard von der Heydt, Monte Verità, Ascona, acquired from the above on February 22, 1926
Rietberg Museum, Zurich (inv. no. RME 434), donated by the above
Everett Rassiga, New York, acquired from the above by exchange
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, October 4, 1969, lot 113, consigned by the above
Henri Kamer, New York, acquired at the above auction
Private Collection, acquired from the above
Kevin Conru, Brussels
American Private Collection, acquired from the above


Galerie Flechtheim, Berlin, Südsee Plastik, May, 1926, and travelling: Zürcher Kunsthaus, Zurich, June, 1926; Galerie Flechtheim, Dusseldorf, August 1926


Carl Einstein, "Südsee-Plastiken", Veröffentlichungen des Kunstarchivs No. 5, Berlin, 1926, p. 17, cat. no. 161 (listed)
Philip Collins Gifford, Jr., "The Iconology of the Uli Figure of Central New Ireland", unpublished PhD thesis, Columbia University, 1974, n.p., no. 64

Catalogue Note

Südsee Plastik at the Galerie Flechtheim, 1926

This expressive ancestor figure, or uli, from central New Ireland has recently been reunited with an important and historic aspect of its provenance: its appearance in the 1926 exhibition Südsee Plastik (South Seas Sculpture) at the Galerie Flechtheim, the eponymous gallery in Berlin of Alfred Flechtheim, one of the great champions of the art of the French and German avant-garde in the early part of the twentieth century. Flechtheim was a close friend of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who was the dealer of Braque, Picasso, Gris, and Léger in Paris, and their relationship gave Flechtheim privileged access to the works of these major artists, which he exhibited in his galleries in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, and Cologne. An enthusiast of the art of the Pacific, in particular that of New Ireland, Flechtheim had exhibited African and Oceanic works alongside modern art in his galleries for several years before Südsee Plastik, which was the first exhibition he dedicated solely to non-European art.

For this historic exhibition Flechtheim commissioned a catalogue with text by Carl Einstein, art historian, critic, theorist, and the author of the seminal 1915 work Negerplastik. Einstein had first met Flechtheim in the company of Kahnweiler at the famous Le Dôme Café in Montparnasse (Lloyd in Wiese and Flack-Knoch, eds., Alfred Flechtheim. Sammler. Kunsthändler. Verleger., Düsseldorf, 1987, p. 33) and was a regular contributor to Der Querschnitt and, later, Omnibus, both publications closely tied to Flechtheim. In his introduction Einstein states that the objects are from the "Flechtheim Collection" (Einstein, Südsee Plastiken, Berlin, 1926, p. 3), but the sculptures were in fact owned by Flechtheim’s friend, Eduard von der Heydt, the collector and banker, who had acquired the entire collection earlier in the same year from the famous firm of J.F.G. Umlauff in Hamburg (see Tisa Francini in Bambi and Drecoll, eds., Alfred Flechtheim. Raubkunst und Restitution, Berlin, 2015, p. 236). Von der Heydt , “Following the idea of an “ars una”, or universal art”, (Schweizer in Sotheby’s, ed., Uli, New York, 2016, p. 36) began in the 1920s to expand his collection from Modern Art, adding African, Chinese, Indian, Native American, and Oceanic sculptures. “His guiding principle in this effort of unifying works of different cultures and eras was that art is created free of national and regional limitations [… collecting] therefore should be transnational and universal […]” (ibid.). Von der Heydt and Flechtheim were old acquaintances, and their shared interest in the art of Oceania – in particular objects from German colonial possessions in New Guinea – was doubtless the spur for Südsee Plastik.

The exhibition included 184 sculptures drawn from the more than 1,000 objects von der Heydt acquired from Umlauff, with 48 works from New Mecklenburg (New Ireland), and the remainder from German New Guinea. Amongst the objects from New Ireland the catalogue lists nine uli sculptures, of which the present lot is number 161, described as being from "the Lamasong area" (Einstein, ibid., p. 17). The works from the exhibition, including the present lot, were subsequently donated by von der Heydt to the city of Zurich, where they formed the basis of the Oceanic art collection at the Museum Rietberg, Zurich, where von der Heydt’s greatest uli statue (inv. no. RME 431) remains the most important sculpture from the Pacific in the museum’s collection.