Female Figure

early 19th century
Tonga, Ha'apai Islands
Ha'apai Islands
Whale ivory
H. 5 1/4 x W. 2 x D. 1 1/2 in. (13.3 x 5.1 x 3.8 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 353
Although most Polynesian peoples appear to have made and used human images, few such objects have survived to the present day. Most were destroyed under the influence of Christian missionaries, who viewed such sculptures as "graven images." Small female figures in ivory were known from the Tongan archipelago as early as the late eighteenth century. Formerly referred to as goddesses, these figures are now thought to represent important female ancestors. A number of Tongan ivories were traded to the neighboring Fiji islands, where they were used during religious rites. This particularly expressive example was collected on the Fijian island of Viti Levu by the Reverend Cyril G. Hawdon in 1868.
#1719. Female Figure
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Collected by Cyril G. Hawdon, Viti Levu, Fiji, in 1868; [John J. Klejman, New York, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1957, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1978

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Museum of Primitive Art. Masterpieces in the Museum of Primtive Art: Africa, Oceania, North America, Mexico, Central to South America, Peru. Handbook series. New York, NY: Museum of Primitive Art, 1965, no. 58.

Wardwell, Allen. The Sculpture of Polynesia. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1967, no. 12, p. 18.

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. 24.

Barrow, Terence. Art and Life in Polynesia. Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle, 1972, p. 70.

The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no.106.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L. Artificial Curiosities: Being an Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook on the Occasion of the European Discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by Captain Cook. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication, Vol. vol. 65. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1978.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 106.

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, no. 172, pp. 287–288.

Kjellgren, Eric. "The Pacific Resurfaces: New Galleries for Oceanic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Tribal Art (Winter 2007–2008), p. 103, 9.

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 147–49.