Is Ku Ka'ili Moku, a 7M $ gift a fake?

An impressive sculpture of a Hawaiian deity was purchased in November 2017 for 6.345 million euros on a high estimate of 3 million at Christie's. It was donated in July 2018 to the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu by Marc Benioff, a high-tech millionaire, but is not from period, according to several experts who doubted that it had been created two centuries ago. President of Salesforce and new owner of Time magazine, Benioff thought he was doing the right thing through his gesture to return this statue to Hawaii so that the inhabitants of the island could admire it. Still, according to several specialists, it was created only in the 20th century. It would not be worth more than 5000 dollars, which could be annoying for the entrepreneur who had benefited from a large tax rebate through this donation. However, during its sale in Paris on the occasion of the dispersal of Pierre Vérité and his son Claude, Christie's estimated that this 53 cm high statue was the counterpart of another appearing in the British Museum by describing it in its catalog as a Hawaiian figure of the god of war Ku ka'ili moku dating from 1780-1820 without precise provenance before being purchased by Pierre Vérité from the merchant and collector Maria Ciolkowska during the 1940s. Christie's had not initially imagined that such a statue could appear in a private collection, thinking it was dealing with a splendid find. Now, the auction house declined to comment on the unfavorable opinions of certain specialists, including Parisian dealer Anthony Meyer. He believed it had not been created at the time of Captain Cook's trip to Hawaii but much later, adding that it would actually only be worth $ 5,000 at best. Nevertheless, Julian Harding, a dealer and expert in Oceanic art remained convinced that this sculpture was a masterpiece for which he would be willing to shell out over $ 7 million. He added that it was in his opinion the counterpart of that acquired in 1822 by the London Missionary Society before landing in the British Museum. Harding also indicated that George Bennett, who had been on the mission trip, had probably brought it back to London, as Christie's suggested between the lines of his description. Officials from the Honolulu Museum traveled to London and Paris to investigate the provenance of this statue without being able to determine the date of its execution, subsequently deciding to analyze it while Adrienne Kaeppler, the curator of the arts Oceanians at the Smithsonian who had been contacted by Christie's prior to the sale indicated that she replied from her photo that it was similar to the one in the British Museum noting that it was smaller but was a bit disturbed by the fact that could not trace the provenance further before the 1940s.
Christie's video: © Adrian Darmon

Is Ku Ka'ili Moku, a 7M $ gift a fake?

An impressive sculpture of a Hawaiian deity was purchased in November 2017 for 6.345 million euros on a high estimate of 3 million at...