Rapa Nui Moai at the Louvre – Paris


London is a treasure trove of tiki bars, but Paris is a bust. (Editor’s note: A few tiki bars have opened in Paris since my visit.) However, there’s plenty of original Oceanic Art to be found in the museums. (And Paris also happens to be the home of the amazingly creative and whimsical tiki mug artist Baï.)


The Musée du quai Branly would be your #1 stop (right now they have a special exhibit on the Maori) but if you’re on the requisite visit to the Louvre you can check out the smallish section on the Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.


It was interesting to compare this Moai to the one we saw at the British Museum. This fragment was taken from Rapa Nui in 1935 by Alfred Métraux and Henri Lavachery, who were the first professional archaeologists to visit Easter Island. People were going up and posing for pictures as if they were picking its nose…


Sadly, there was very little context given for these items, just a date estimate, geographical origin and a one-word description (in French, bien sûr). I ended up researching later. From left: a 19th-century stone pounder from the Marquesas Islands used to grind breadfruit; a small and squat Marquesan tiki from the late 1800s/early 1900s; and an 18th-century wooden fan handle possibly from Tahiti.


I had no idea what this was when I first saw it. but I thought it looked cool. Turns out it’s a 17th- or 18th-century reimiro, a wooden boat-shaped pendant worn by the women (and possibly men) of Easter Island. This piece and the pounder were both donated by Roland Bonaparte, the grandnephew of Napoleon and father of Marie Bonaparte. Another fun fact: he originally owned what is now the Shangri-La hotel in Paris.


This Lono from the end of the 18th century is on loan from the collection of the Musée du quai Branly. In Hawaiian mythology he represents fertility and family.


They also had several 17th- or 18th-century Rapa Nui figures that men supposedly used as pendants. The two moai kavakava are named so because their ribs are showing, while the moai tangata is more well fed and sports a goatee.


Nothing tiki about this, of course, it’s just one of my favorites from the Louvre: Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. And in completely unrelated Moai news, there’s one prominently featured towards the end of the trailer for The Pirates! Band of Misfits. (You’ll already know that if you follow me on Twitter.)


4 responses

  1. Hey Tiki Chick. I was in Paris in September and thought the same thing as you when I saw these in the Louvre: “Why isn’t there more info?”
    But, i guess with so So SO many artifacts in that gargantuan museum, each piece only gets a snippet. I want to hit the South Seas museum whenever I get back to Paris. The wife and I were also disappointed not to find any polynesian pop in Paris. :-/

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