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About this Item
“Alexis Preller was captivated by the mystique of the ‘Mapogga’ [Ndebele] people. Their rituals, their architecture and their traditional dress seemed to him to have descended from the dawn of time. The Ndebele villages thus became enduring source material for his vision of eternal Africa.”1
In 1948, Preller gave expression to his vision of a Ndebele village in a painting he called The Kraal and, even though it was selected to travel on the Overseas Exhibition of South African Art, Preller was not completely satisfied with the work. So, in the same year, he started over and produced a substantially larger work, also titled The Kraal, in which he transformed the reality of the homestead into a complex, brilliant and mysterious tableau, a poetic image of African life. It was one of the most ambitions and complex compositions that he had yet attempted.2
Then in 1951 he returned again to the same subject with a much smaller painting, the present lot, also titled The Kraal. At first glance this works appears to be a detail of the large 1948 painting. Yet this is a much more stylised, bolder and pared down rendition in comparison to the earlier paintings. Once again, Preller has placed the head of a woman at the bottom of the picture plane, in this instance a more sculptural bald head, that establishes the initial viewpoint over the village complex.
As in the previous two paintings the most startling elements are the ritual objects. In complete defiance of the proportions of the people and architecture, these ritual objects have been scaled up to triumphal size. They objectify the community’s belief system and they dominate the kraal. As Berman and Nel point out, none of these objects is actually of Ndebele origin. The bright red animal form is inspired by a Baga artefact from Guinea and is portrayed here as large enough to support the bowl-shaped drum that carries a lighted candle, a familiar Preller ‘household god’.
In the distance beyond the irregular Ndebele houses, the artist places a huge egg, another Preller icon, in the enshrined stockade that is traditionally both a corral for cows and a burial ground for the ancestors. Preller scatters a number of highly stylised birds that allude to a Baga sculpture throughout this imagined village instead of his more typical egrets, which in some African belief systems are considered to harbour the spirits of the ancestors.
1. Esmé Berman and Karel Nel (2009) Alexis Preller: Volume II, Collected Images, Johannesburg: Shelf Publishing, page 71.
Stephan Welz & Co in Association with Sotheby’s, Johannesburg, 2 November 1992, lot 427.
Die Kunskamer, Cape Town, 13 May 1993.
Stephan Welz (1996) Art at Auction in South Africa: The Art Market Review 1969 to 1995, Johannesburg: Art Link, illustrated in colour on page 159.
cf Esmé Berman and Karel Nel (2009) Alexis Preller: Africa, the Sun and Shadows, Johannesburg: Shelf Publishing, two similar examples illustrated on page 117, titled Kraal I and Kraal II
cf Esmé Berman and Karel Nel. (2009) Alexis Preller: Collected Images, Johannesburg: Shelf Publishing, a similar example illustrated on page 71, titled Kraal II.
cf Esmé Berman (1983) Art and Artist's of South Africa, Cape Town: Southern Book Publishers, a similar example illustrated on page 71, titled Kraal II.
Kraal II is in the permanent collection of the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town.