Strauss & Co’s mid-winter sale attracts over 700 bidders and earns R7.5 million

14 Jul 2021

Strauss & Co’s marathon winter live-streamed auction of nearly 800 lots offered by its three departments concluded on Monday, 12 July with combined earnings of nearly R7.5 million.

The two-day auction commenced with a dedicated 66-lot sale of collectable wines and spirits, which earned R469 979, and was immediately followed by a five-session sale of art and decorative pieces that brought in R7 006 715. A team of auctioneers in Johannesburg and Cape Town led the virtual live auction, as Strauss & Co upgrades its digital infrastructure in anticipation of a diverse programme in the second half of 2021.

“We have much to be thankful for in this result, more so given the current social and economic circumstances,” says Frank Kilbourn, Strauss & Co’s executive chairperson. “Our mid-winter sale attracted over 700 bidders and included 74 new buyers. Our ability to switch between live, online and hybrid modes of selling is an important strength during these difficult times. I particularly want to commend Strauss & Co’s staff for their efforts in the lead up to this auction and congratulate the auctioneers for their handling of the lengthy live-streamed sessions. I am encouraged by the wine department’s solid performance and ability to grow its offering, as well as cheered by on-going collector enthusiasm for JH Pierneef.”

An evergreen artist at auction, JH Pierneef posted the top individual result when a youthful still life executed in charcoal and pencil sold for R284 500. The 1906 drawing includes a ceramic bottle of Bols Genever, a Dutch spirit that inspired the cocktail revolution in nineteenth-century America. Another Pierneef drawing, a 1925 pastel depicting willow trees, sold for R227 600. Pierneef frequently visited the Pienaars River and Klip River, the locales of his brooding pastel drawings, with his godfather and mentor, sculptor Anton van Wouw. A maquette of Van Wouw’s Miner, cast at the Massa foundry in Italy, sold on this sale for R227 600.

Strauss & Co will be hosting a single-artist sale devoted entirely to Pierneef on Monday, 26 July 2021 at 6pm. The sale follows shortly on a successful single-artist sale for Namibian artist John Muafangejo in May. Dr Alastair Meredith, Strauss & Co’s art department head and an authority of early twentieth century South African art, will lead the live-streamed Pierneef sale. “By presenting over 50 examples, made over almost half-a-century, individual works are better contextualized,” says Meredith.

Other notable modernist painters who performed well in the mid-winter auction include Gregoire Boonzaier, Hugo Naudé and Frans Oerder: Boonzaier’s self-portrait in a green hat fetched R284 500; Oerder’s pleasing Landscape near Swellendam achieved R147 940; and Naudé’s attractive study of Gydo Pass near Ceres sold for R102 420. Among the post-war artists, Walter Battiss came out on top, with his Composition with Figures selling for R102 420. Contemporary artists Norman Catherine and William Kentridge also posted solid results: a vivid portrait triptych by Catherine and print depicting dancers by Kentridge both achieved R170 700.

The two-day auction commenced with a standalone sale of sweet and fortified wines and whisky. The top-selling lot was a 700ml bottle of Louis XIII Cognac Grande Champagne, NV, produced from the sought-after vineyards of Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne, which sold for R34 140. The sale included 18 vintages of Klein Constantia’s renowned Vin de Constance, all of which found buyers. A single 500ml bottle of the highly regarded 1987 vintage achieved R28 450. A 30-year-old Port Ellen single-malt whisky from Douglas Laing’s Old & Rare Platinum Selection sold R25 036. The wine sale produced many better than expected results: a 1998 vintage of Overgaauw’s Cape Vintage port sold for R8 208, well over the high estimate.

“It is indeed encouraging to see that we can put on a sale of a very niche and mostly tough-sell category, and achieve good results,” says Higgo Jacobs, a Strauss & Co wine specialist and certified master sommelier. “The big positive was the results achieved with the small selection of spirits, a new category introduced with this sale.”

A session presented by the decorative arts department and billed as “A Decorators’ Cornucopia” also yielded encouraging results. The session commenced with a selection of jewellery. Six lots by German-South African jewellery designer Aninka Harms, a student of noted German designer Jens-Rüdiger Lorenzen, all found buyers.

The top individual lot from this session was an Italian Renaissance revival walnut cassone, the front carved in high relief with acanthus foliage, which sold above estimate for R45 520. Among the furniture pieces, a set of ten George III mahogany dining chairs achieved R28 450, a George III mahogany tallboy/chest-on-chest went for R17 588, and a pair of Arts and Crafts beech and leather armchairs sold for R11 725.

Appetite for silverware remains mixed, but important pieces in this session attracted solid bids. A Victorian silver four-piece tea service by Atkin Brothers of Sheffield, dated 1896, and an Edward VII silver teapot and hot water jug by Walker & Hall of Sheffield, dated 1901, each sold for R15 243. A mid-century Tiffany & Co silver jug sold for R10 553. The session also included various books. A lot containing seven books and catalogues about John Muafangejo sold for R7 035.

“It was great fun to be back on the rostrum,” says Susie Goodman, an executive director at Strauss & Co, who coordinated the Johannesburg-leg of the two-day auction. “With all that is going on in our country we are very grateful to be able to carry on business as usual and attract new buyers. It is an encouraging sign regarding the meaning and solace of collecting as a passion, especially in difficult times.”

Strauss & Co’s next sale will be a specialist wine sale with a Burgundy and Champagne theme. An extremely rare 1998 Domaine de La Romanée Conti (estimate R200 000 – R300 000) spearheads the 117-lot sale of wines from France and South Africa. The wine sale will take place on Sunday, 25 July 2021 at 10am.

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