A rare Maori statue is being sold at auction in France, and is expected to fetch up to $3.1 million.

It is one of just six known pou whaikairo sculptures in the world, which auction house Sotheby's said made it "amongst the most significant Maori objects".

"It is, moreover, one of the greatest sculptures within the wider Polynesian tradition," the auctioneers said.

Standing 39cm tall, the carved wooden piece features a moko, a mat of black human hair, inlaid brass eyes, and the blue-black and white tail feathers of a huia.


The artefact is believed to have been taken out of New Zealand to Scotland by "a seafaring ancestor" in the early 1830s.

Tucked away in a Scottish country house attic, its existence was unknown until it surfaced at auction in 1979.

Canadian multimillionaire and art collector Dr Murray Frum later bought it to add to his private collection.

The 81-year-old real estate developer died last year and now his family has put his treasure trove under the hammer.

"It is the most important group of Oceanic art to come on to the market in the last 30 years, including examples of some of the rarest works of Polynesian and Melanesian art, many with extraordinary history," Sotheby's said.

Yesterday Te Papa refused to comment on whether it might be interested in bidding.

"Te Papa does not comment on upcoming auctions or other sales as this may unfairly affect market value," a spokeswoman said.

The auction, in Paris on September 16, also features a pair of wooden putorino bulge-flutes that could fetch up to $190,000; a Maori bird perch, valued at $395,000 to $633,000; and an "extremely rare" 18cm hei tiki pendant with an estimate of $110,000 to $160,000.

In 2008, a hei tiki fetched $165,290 at Sotheby's in New York.

Earlier this year, a collection of rare Maori artefacts, owned by a concentration camp survivor and former art adviser to Pablo Picasso's family, fetched more than double their estimated prices at Sotheby's in New York.

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage monitors auctions within New Zealand, but does not follow those held overseas.

It has no ability under legislation such as the Protected Objects Act 1975 to stop sales, or force repatriation of cultural heritage material sold at auction overseas.