Estimate: 25,000 - 35,000 USD


Estimate: 25,000 - 35,000 USD

Lot Sold:68,750USD

Lot Details



Middle Sepik River, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea

Wood, pigments

Height: 26 ¼ in (66.7 cm)

Condition Report

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Harry A. Franklin, Beverly Hills, acquired by 1960


David Scott, The Primitive Arts of the Sepik River, New Guinea, Claremont, 1960, n.p., cat. no. 4403, illustrated on the cover

Ralph C. Altman et al., Art of New Guinea: Sepik, Maprik and Highlands, Los Angeles, 1967, p. 52, cat. no. 160 (listed)

Museum of Cultural History, ed., Music in the Visual Arts, Los Angeles, 1973, p. 25, cat. no. 173 (listed)

George R. Ellis, Oceanic Art: A Celebration of Form, San Diego, 2009, p. 92, cat. no. 71


The Lang Art Galleries, Scripps College, Claremont, The Primitive Arts of the Sepik River, New Guinea, October 18 - December 17, 1960

Denver Art Museum, Art of the South Seas, September 21 - October 15, 1961

The Ethnic Art Galleries, University of California, Los Angeles, Art of New Guinea: Sepik, Maprik and Highlands, November 6 - December 30, 1967; additional venue: University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin, circa April 1 - 30, 1968

Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles, Music in the Visual Arts, April 10 - June 3, 1973

San Diego Museum of Art, Oceanic Art: A Celebration of Form, January 31, 2009 - January 3, 2010

Catalogue Note

Music plays an influential role in the Middle Sepik River region, particularly during rituals related to ancestor worship, as the sounds of instruments are often associated with the voices of the ancestors. According to Kaufmann, Iatmul drums such as the present lot were used during ceremonies to accompany dances and to modulate "the sui-sagi chanting that evokes the history of each clan and its hero" (Kaufmann in Pelter, ed., Shadows of New Guinea: Art of the Great Island of Oceania from the Barbier-Mueller Collections, Geneva, 2006, p. 336). "Apart from underlining sagi chants, the drumbeat is an indispensable element of musical performances. In Iatmul music, the tune sung or played on a pair of flutes elaborates the melodic motif of the birdcall of the totemic birds linked to a clan and summons them aloft." (ibid.)

Of clear social and ritual importance such instruments were often, as here, finely decorated objects which transcend their functional purpose to become works of art in their own right. Here this artistry is evident in the quality of the carving of the central mask and the two figures of cassowaries at both ends of the handles, their beaks seeming to disappear into the body of the drum itself. This drum relates to a group of four important Iatmul drums of similar iconography but somewhat more elaborately decorated with spiral relief motifs of a style which is very reminiscent of the carving on lot 19 in the present auction, the Blackwater River suspension hook.

Pacific Art from the Collection of Harry A. Franklin
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