Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Ancestor Figure (Korwar)

late 19th–early 20th century
Indonesia, Papua Province (Irian Jaya), Cenderawasih Bay region
Cenderawasih Bay
Wood, glass beads
H. 10 1/4 in. (26 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Fred and Rita Richman Gift and Rogers Fund, 2001
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
Formerly in the collection of the Surrealist poet and theoretician André Breton (1896–1966), this remarkable korwar, or ancestor figure, exemplifies the distinctive approach to the human form that prompted many Surrealists to seek inspiration in Oceanic art. Created in the Cenderawasih Bay region of northwestern New Guinea, korwar represented individuals who had recently died. Each served as a supernatural container into which the spirit of the newly deceased ancestor could be called for consultation or the presentation of offerings.
Korwar imagery was highly conventionalized, depicting the ancestor in a seated or standing position with the robust head and arrow-shaped nose that are the hallmarks of the style. Although the sex of the figures is often difficult to determine, all were originally male or female, depending on the gender of the deceased. Normally kept in the house of the deceased's family, korwar were also carried along on dangerous sea voyages to assure a successful outcome. Cenderawasih canoes had korwar heads incorporated into their prow and stern ornaments, and miniature korwar were carried as amulets. The pervasive presence of these ancestor images protected the living and emphasized the importance of ancestors in all aspects of everyday life.
Musée de L'Homme, Paris; André Breton, Paris, until 1931; (Hotel Drouot Rive Gauche, Paris, 1931, no. 37); private collection, possibly more than one; [Anthony J. P. Meyer, Galerie Meyer, Paris]; Luciano Lanfranchi, Milan, Italy; [Davide Manfredi, Milan, Italy, until 2001]

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, 9, 38-9.

Related Objects

House Post Figure

Date: 19th century Medium: Wood Accession: 1979.206.1440 On view in:Gallery 354

Bis Pole

Date: late 1950s Medium: Wood, paint, fiber Accession: 1979.206.1611 On view in:Gallery 354

Ancestor Figure (Korwar)

Date: late 19th–early 20th century Medium: Wood, paint, glass beads Accession: 1988.143.45 On view in:Gallery 354


Date: late 19th–early 20th century Medium: Wood, glass beads, fiber Accession: 1978.412.1562 On view in:Gallery 354

Male Figure

Date: ca. 1961 Medium: Wood, paint Accession: 1978.412.1155 On view in:Gallery 354