The Elizabeth Pryce Collection – In Tribute to Oceanic Art
On October 10, in Paris, Sotheby’s will present for auction the collection of Elizabeth Pryce, dedicated entirely to Oceanic art. An essential personality of the Oceanic art world, she was one of the founders and vice-president of the Oceanic Art Society in Sydney, which played a significant part in the recognition and promotion of this specialty, particularly via major exhibitions such as the famous Shields of Melanesia. Assembled over more than forty years, this collection tells the story of a journey that was both artistic and cultural; that of Elizabeth Pryce, who travelled to Papua New Guinea several times, to the birthplace of these creations, in order to better understand them and give context to their acquisition. This unique collection, which comprises almost one hundred and fifty pieces, gives us an intimate view of Oceanic art, especially through the many items related to everyday life – combs, betel mortar, lime spatula, neck rests -, beautifully intricate embodiments of the art of living in Oceania.
This diversity, which reflects the stylistic variety of Oceanic art, parallels the historical origins and sculptural quality of certain pieces that stand out as icons. The biwat flute cap – acquired in situ in 1949 by Australian painter William Dobell – stands out in this respect, and magnificently illustrates the most powerful aesthetics of the arts of New Guinea. Sealing the extremity of the great sacred flutes, these figures were of major significance, at once social, ceremonial and religious: they were considered by the Biwat as the most important of their sculptures and had a sacred character. As an epitome of these aesthetics dedicated to forcefulness and emblematic of the art of Papua New Guinea, this piece attests to the unerring eye and indisputable taste of Elizabeth Pryce, who assembled a collection where each piece exemplifies the subtle blend of power and refinement unique to this region. Fulfilled with her own artistic journey, today Elizabeth Pryce gives us the opportunity – through the auction of her collection – to begin our own journey through Oceanic art.