New Acquisitions

Man’s ear ornament Ha’akai

Marquesas Islands

Carved tooth
19th century
Height: 2 ¾ in. (7.2 cm)
Length: 3 ¼ in. (8 cm)

Ex collection Nelly Van Den Abbeele, Brussels
Ex Christie’s, Amsterdam, May 2001

Published: Voyages… From the North Pacific to the South Pacific in the wake of Captain Cook, 2019

Price: on request

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In 1900, Paul Gauguin observed: "In the Marquesan especially there is an unparalleled sense of decoration. Give him a subject even of the most ungainly geometrical forms and he will succeed in keeping the whole harmonious and in leaving no displeasing or incongruous spaces. The basis is the human body or the face, especially the face. One is astonished to find a face where one thought there was nothing but a strange geometric figure. Always the same thing, yet never the same thing" ("The Sculpture of Polynesia", A. Wardwell, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1967 page 41).

This type of ear ornament, carved in sperm whale tooth (Physeter catodon) was reserved for high-ranking Marquesan men. These ornaments called Ha'akai were an important symbol of status.