Alexis Preller’s Three (Mapogga) Women of 1952, the present lot, is most certainly a preliminary painting of the larger Three Women (fig 1), he was to paint in the same year. Preller was enthralled by the mystique of the Mapogga women. He was increasingly convinced of a hieratic past, in which those stately matriarchal figures, with their bead-bound necks, upright backs and outstretched, brass encircled legs, had reigned as high priestesses. He had the
feeling that somehow they retained the memory of their people’s glory, even amid the shrunken circumstances of their contemporary existence.1 Between 1950 and 1953, Preller was preoccupied with the Mapogga concept. He directed most of his attention to paintings of Mapogga women – singly and in twos and threes – and, as he proceeded, he gradually relaxed the painted figures’ ties to visual reality. Almost from the start their heads were represented by abstract ovoid forms. Progressively, their figures were stylised, their outlines simplified and elongated.2 The grouping of three women in both the 1952 paintings has moved quite a distance from the rural world in which the Ndebele lived. They have acquired the slender, elongated grace – and indeed the remoteness – of an Art Deco fashion plate and, as occurs in stylised fashion plates, aspects of their figures and their dress have been distorted. The small head and breasts of the centre woman contrast patently with her large sinuous arm, while the feet of all three have been reduced to tiny ciphers.3
1. Esmé Berman and Karel Nel (2009) Africa, the Sun and Shadows, Volume II, Collected Images, Johannesburg: Shelf Publishing, page 101.
2. Ibid, page 103.
3. Ibid, page 103.
Esmé Berman and Karel Nel (2009) Africa, the Sun and Shadows, Volume II, Collected Images, Johannesburg: Shelf Publishing. Illustrated in black and white on page 10.