Wood sculpture on the island of Mangareva, southeast of Tahiti, portrayed a diversity of supernatural beings including major deities, ancestors, and the spirits of the children of chiefs who died before birth. Nearly all Mangarevan sculpture was destroyed in 1835–36 when the Mangarevans converted to Christianity, and only roughly a dozen examples survive today. The identity of those being portrayed here is unknown. However, the figure is similar in form to images identified in historical sources as Rogo, an agricultural deity responsible for bringing the rains that nourished the growth of crops.
By far Rockefeller's most important acquisition of Polynesian art was this male figure from Mangareva in French Polynesia. Refined and exceedingly rare, when acquired in 1953 from the Julius Carlebach Gallery in New York, it almost singlehandedly elevated Rockefeller's Oceanic collection to international importance. In the six decades since, no further examples have appeared on the market. It remains the centerpiece of the Metropolitan's Polynesian collection today.
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1953]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1953, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1978
Wardwell, Allen. The Sculpture of Polynesia. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1967, no. 34, p. 38.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 15.
Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 112.
Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones, and Kate Ezra. The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987, no. 34, p. 50.
Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 177, 294-5.