Strauss & Co celebrates a century of watercolour painting in its May Online-Only Auction

3 Jun 2022

Watercolour, a fluid medium with a substantial history in South Africa, is the focus of Strauss & Co’s May online-only auction.

Organised by Strauss & Co senior art specialist Marion Dixon, the sale is titled Watercolour: Choreography of Chance and Control and features striking works by, among others, Walter Battiss, Joni Brenner, Alan Crump, Alice Elahi, David Mogano, JH Pierneef, Durant Sihlali, Maud Sumner and William Timlin.

“Watercolour is a serious and challenging medium, not a hobbyist medium,” says Marion Dixon. “To master watercolour takes exceptional skill and technique. Joni Brenner, a contemporary master of the medium, speaks of watercolour as a living medium. The watercolour session is composed of nearly 60 works made since 1925 by more than two-dozen artists. The range of works on offer showcases the many possibilities of watercolour, a risky medium that balances control and collapse.”

The watercolour session follows shortly on Strauss & Co’s estimate-smashing R233 290 sale of a 1978 watercolour by Walter Battiss depicting Tahiti. Battiss has eight works in Watercolour: Choreography of Chance and Control, including the exemplary pieces Two Nudes (estimate R30 000 – 50 000) and Seagulls (estimate R20 000 – 30 000).

Grace Anderson, a renowned art-educationalist who married Battiss in 1940, makes her auction debut at Strauss & Co with four watercolours from 1925. The watercolour session also includes works by Wayne Barker, Gregoire Boonzaier, Giuseppe Cattaneo, Sidney Goldblatt, Clare Menck, Senzo Shabangu, Penny Siopis and Anna Vorster.

The sale’s title derives from a 2009 interview in which Siopis speaks of spilling and pooling in painting. This exciting session is supported by an online education programme and includes a short film featuring Joni Brenner at work. Brenner has also written an illuminating essay to contextualise the watercolour session.

Strauss & Co’s May online-only auction comprises a total of seven sessions, of which two sessions are devoted to works from the estate of renowned public artist Danie de Jager. There is a consignment of 12 animal bronzes by De Jager, among them a 1989 maquette of Shawu the elephant at Sun City (estimate R20 000 – R30 000). Presented in a standalone session, the 36 drawings by Alexis Preller were acquired by De Jager from Preller’s lover, Guna Massyn. The consignment includes preparatory sketches for well-known paintings like Flower King I, The Poet Prince and Hieratic Women. Executed with refined confidence, estimates for these small works range from R1 000 to R5 000.

Pieter Hugo, a photographer with a strong international record at auction, has three works in this sale. They include an early portrait from 2003, Sam, Klein Karoo, South Africa (estimate R90 000 – 120 000), and a 2007 work from his acclaimed Hyena Men series (estimate R 18 000 – 24 000). The online-only sale also features a strong consignment of works on paper, notably a complete set of 10 prints from Sam Nhlengethwa’s The Jazz Legends (estimate R50 000 – 70 000) and four abstract heads by influential Dutch painter Karel Appel (estimate R7 000 – 10 000).

Bidding for works in Watercolour: Choreography of Chance and Control opens on Monday, 30 May 2022, and concludes a week later, on Monday, 6 June 2022.