a tribute to claude bouscharain and erik laubscher

A Tribute to Claude Bouscharain and Erik Laubscher

5 Oct 2021

Leading auction house Strauss & Co is pleased to announce a special artist focus on two quintessential Cape painters, Bouscharain and Laubscher, in its forthcoming live virtual auction, due to take place on the 11th and 12th of October, 2021.

“Search for an organised state of intensity… I group contrary values together… between those two kinds of relationships, which are eternal subjects for painting, I look for a relationship of intensity”. This quote from well-known Cubist and modernist artist Fernand Henri Léger not only had a significant impact on artist couple Claude Bouscharain and Erik Laubscher’s work, it was a type of unconscious manifesto for the way they approached their relationship and their lifestyle.

“Bouscharain and Laubscher were true doyens of Cape painting,” says Kirsty Colledge, Head of the Art Department at Strauss & Co in Cape Town. “The Evening Session of our spring auction will commence with a showcase of eight examples of these two artists’ -works. Spanning five decades, we hope this presentation will offer collectors an insight into their extraordinary intertwined creative journey.”  Art critic and writer Melvyn Minnaar referred to Laubscher as the “hot-headed leader of the pack” in Cape Town. “His enthusiasm, energy and dedication were inspiring.” His partner Bouscharain was an internationally critically acclaimed artist throughout her career.

The meeting

Laubscher met Bouscharain in 1950 at the Académie Montmartre, in Paris, where Léger was principal, and exerted a strong influence on both artists’ work. Their love story is as evocative as that of writer Jan Rabie and artist Marjorie Wallace or Amadeo Modigliani and Jeanne Hebuturne -filled with interesting characters, rebellion against the status quo and opposition to the Conservative National Party’s draconian race laws. 

Laubscher recalls his first meeting with Bouscharain “My favourite story is when Claude came there (Académie Montmartre) in about August 1950, after the summer recess and I thought ‘Jy!’ that is a good-looking chick, that one!’ He assumed she was French and went up to her, intent on showcasing his best French. Bouscharain however, had been studying in the United States for the previous two years and replied to him in flawless English. “Claude was a very interesting painter in her own right, completely different from me. In South Africa, her work went through many different changes. It moved away from the slightly surrealistic elements,” he says of his wife’s style.

6 Cheviot Place

After Paris, the couple settled in Cape Town. Their house in 6 Cheviot Place, Green Point was a hub for artists, writers, and all sorts of characters from Cape Town’s bohemian and anti-establishment circles. Writer Abraham H De Vries described it as “a meeting place for anyone that could yield a pen or paintbrush.”

The who’s who of Cape Town’s intelligentsia and members of the so-called “Sestiger” literary movement regularly congregated there – Breyten Breytenbach, Adam Small, Ingrid Jonker, Jack Cope, and later key struggle political figures such as Judge Albie Sachs. De Vries described Laubscher as a people’s person – the calm eye of the storm in that lovely “tamed asylum” of feral creativity. “He could always offer a practical remark or opinion, no matter how esoteric the topic got.”

What only became normal after 1994 in South Africa, was already part of everyday life in the Laubscher household in 1950’s suburban Cape Town.

Francesca Gayraud-Laubscher, daughter of Erik and Claude, recalls a coloured man called Kenny Parker, who regularly visited their home. “He used to pick me up and swing me around.” She also remembers visits from African writer and academic Richard Rive. “He was a black man with big round eyes, who wrote books and had the whitest smile ever. Neighbours told us we weren’t really allowed to have “non-European” friends coming to our house, but no one really did anything about it, unless they held parties. Then the police would sometimes call.”

Focus on Laubcher and Boucherain

Laubscher went through many stylistic phases. The sale includes two examples of his School of Paris still life arrangements made shortly after his return home in 1951. The double-sided composition Still Life with Papaya/ Still Life with Lemons (estimate R1.4 – 1.6 million) bears out Walter Battiss’s description of Laubscher as a “compelling” painter able to “paint big canvases with satisfying assurance”. Still Life with Fruit and a Blue Jug showcases the jouissance and vigour with which Laubscher approached his canvases. “One can observe the strong influence of the European modernists in these works” says Jean le Clus-Theron, Senior Art Specialist at Strauss & Co. le Clus-Theron goes on to explain

“when you observe auction records, and the prices that his work from this period achieved in past auctions, you become aware that Laubscher’s work from this period is immensely sought after.”

Collectors equally prize Laubscher’s later Cape landscapes. The sale includes three late-period representational works made between 1998 and 2002. Dorre Landskap, Klein Karoo (estimate R350 000 – 500 000) and Storm Clouds near Prince Albert (estimate R300 000 – 400 000) reveal Laubscher’s attraction to grand vistas and his architectonic understanding of space. Summer Dawn near Laingsburg (estimate R160 000 – 200 000) shows Laubscher’s unadulterated passion for colour.

Strauss & Co will present two works by Bouscharain. Completed in 1969, Adam and Eve Expelled from the Garden of Eden (estimate R40 000 – 60 000) is a strikingly modern and geometric rendition of the Biblical parable of exile. Dated 1981, To The Morning (estimate R50 000 – 70 000) is a bacchanalian study of a swimming couple, possibly Laubscher and Bouscharain, toasting the new day with red wine.