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by Entwistle on 18 December 2020

Entwistle has recently placed this extraordinary bowl from the Palau Islands of Micronesia in a private collection

A rare and exceptional 19th century inlaid bowl from the Palau Islands in Micronesia was recently acquired from Entwistle by a private collection.

The bowl is composed of wood with ochre pigmentation throught and inlays of marine shell. Its measures 58.4 cm (23 in.) in length.

The remarkable depth and form of the vessel is ornamented by an extraordinary series of  zoomorphic figures inlaid with shell on a horizontal arrangement around the entire circumference of the bowl. The figures stand with legs akimbo while the arms are held upwards to form an 'X' conceit. Between the legs of the figures, a long tail is suspended vertically to end in a tuft of hair.

Below and above the abstract figures, slender horizontal bands of inlaid shell add geometric certainty to the design and, above them and near the rim of the bowl, a series of 'V' shaped bird forms add dynamic naturalism to the theme of man at the centre of the dialogue between the heavens and earth.

A short base below the bowl allows for its flat placement on a surface. A series of oblong perforations on the edges of the base create a fluid openwork design and the solid spaces between the openings are also inlaid with triangular shell inlays.

The smooth upper lip of the bowl is slightly raised at the lateral extremities for ease of portability. A bowl of this refinement and detail would have been reserved for special ceremonies and for the exclusive use of village chiefs and nobles.

The bowl is also noteworthy for its remarkable collection history. It was previously in the collection of the notable British anthropologist and museum curator Harry Geoffrey Beasley of Chislehurst, Kent [Inv. No. 3.79]; subsequently with his widow and heir, Irene Beasley, before it passed into the collection of New York collector John Wise. It was acquired by the previous American collectors at auction in New York in the 1960's.

The bowl was exhibited in the landmark show The Art of the Pacific Islands, held at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. in 1979 and published in the catalogue for that exhibiton, written by Peter Gathercole, Adrienne L. Kaeppler and Douglas Newton [p. p. 268, cat. 19.14].

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