late 19th–early 20th century
Papua New Guinea, Lower Sepik River
Kopar or Angoram people
Wood, paint
H. 30 1/2 in. (77.5 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969
Accession Number:
  • Description

    The distinctive figures with lithe attenuated bodies and long beak-like noses created by the Kopar and Angoram peoples, who live near the mouth of the Sepik River in northeastern New Guinea, are said to portray powerful spirits. Such sculptures were reportedly part of the ritual paraphernalia used during dances performed as part of male initiations and other ceremonies. Their presence at these ritual events may have symbolized the participation of the spirits. Attached to lengths of bamboo—which survive on some examples but have been removed from the present work—the figures were carried in the hand as dance wands, or affixed to a framework that extended down the dancer's back.
    This Angoram or Kopar figure from New Guinea was an early acquisition by Robert Goldwater. It had belonged to the early twentieth-century French collector and author Charles Stéphen-Chauvet, who included it in his influential 1930 book Les Arts Indigènes en Nouvelle Guinée, which helped define the canon of New Guinea art. It was later owned by the Surrealist artist Wolfgang Paalen, who, like many Surrealists, drew inspiration from Oceanic art. Goldwater was a pioneering scholar of the relationships between "Primitive" and Modern Art, and the figure's association with Paalen likely gave it additional appeal.  

  • Provenance

    Charles Stéphen-Chauvet, Brussels, Belgium; Wolfgang Paalen; [Everett Rassiga, New York, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1957, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1958–1969; Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978