Live Virtual Auction, 11 - 12 October 2021

Sold for

ZAR 147 940
Lot 202
  • Esther Mahlangu; Souvenir de Paris
  • Esther Mahlangu; Souvenir de Paris
  • Esther Mahlangu; Souvenir de Paris
  • Esther Mahlangu; Souvenir de Paris

Lot Estimate
ZAR 70 000 - 100 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium and VAT
ZAR 147 940

About this Item

South African 1935-
Souvenir de Paris
signed and dated 2003
mixed media on canvas
91 by 141cm excluding frame; 94,5 by 144,5 by 4cm including frame


This lot is accompanied by a copy of the exhibition catalogue, Zed Retief (ed) (2016) Esther Mahlangu 80, Cape Town: 34FineArt.

Artist Focus: Esther Mahlangu

Dr Esther Mahlangu was born in 1935 in Middleburg, South Africa, and still resides in Weltevrede, Mpumalanga. In 1989, Mahlangu was invited to participate in a pivotal contemporary art exhibition Magiciens de la Terre held at Le Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris) which was hailed at the time as a global survey aiming to highlight the modern similarities in artmaking between artists practicing in Western modes and non-Western artists. Mahlangu was invited to paint a replica of her house in South Africa for the exhibition in situ, depicted in the top left corner of Souvenir de Paris (Lot 202). It was later argued that "despite the exhibition’s efforts to shift perceptions about the so-called ‘other’, in the end, the spectacle of the exhibition and the ways in which certain artists were presented remained” polarizing.1 Regardless, having never exhibited in the contemporary art world before this moment, this exhibition is seen as the catalyst to Mahlangu’s career as a contemporary artist. According to Same Mduli, the painting represents "the artist's fondest memories of her visit to Paris in 1989" painted later in her life in 2003.2

Using traditional materials to add a unique texture, Mahlangu embellishes this work with symbols of her personal experience at the time, in a manner that could be inspired by the work of her contemporary, Tito Zungu, whose depictions of aeroplanes and other modes of transportation, adorn envelopes in ballpoint pen in a similar way. The work not only reveals to us how important the exhibition is to Mahlangu but in addition, highlights the Parisian architectural monuments that inspired her at the time of her stay. Most interesting to note is how the artist depicts the Arc de Triomphe, and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris in a stylized manner that emphasises the geometric patterns that Mahlangu repeats to this day in her artistic motif. 

This wonderful example is accompanied by four other works (lot 203 to lot 206) on the sale. The group of works may not be able to show Mahlangu’s full artistic range but collectively they reveal the unique diversity in medium Mahlangu uses to express her unique style of abstraction. An exciting example is the Mparo (Lot 203). A beaded blanket that Mahlangu made specifically to worn by herself after her wedding. Although not a typical western mode of production, the technical complexity of making in beadwork is extraordinary and its inclusion on the sale reveals how as a contemporary artist Mahlangu chooses to work in a variety of mediums and materials that speak to her heritage. The Mparo, along with Untitled, 2014 (Lot 204), one of the largest Mahlangu’s to ever come to auction, and Souvenir de Paris were all exhibited in exhibitions at the UCT Irma Stern Museum in 2003 and in 2015 in celebration of the artist’s 80th birthday. Each lot on the sale is accompanied by a copy of the exhibition catalogue.

In the direct words of Ashraf Jamal, "what makes Mahlangu’s art strikingly contemporary is her counterintuitive exploration of surface, colour, and line. By freeing art from the burden of meaning, Mahlangu has, in effect, freed South Africa from the ghetto of its restrictive imaginary…Esther Mahlangu as an artist cannot be reduced to her history; she cannot be explained away in-and-through a focus on her gender, ethnicity, or even her age."3


1Same Mdluli on page 23 in her text 'The First Lady to Visit Overseas' in Zed Retief (ed) (2016) Esther Mahlangu 80, Cape Town: 34FineArt.

2Ibid, on page 24.

3Ashraf Jamal on page 6 in his text ‘Abstracting Freedom’ in Zed Retief (ed) (2016) Esther Mahlangu 80, Cape Town: 34FineArt.


34FineArt, Cape Town.

Private Collection.


UCT Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town, Esther Mahlangu 2003, 2003.



F R De Jager and A. G. Loots (2003) Esther Mahlangu 2003, Cape Town: 34FineArt, exhibition catalogue, illustrated in colour on page 14.

Zed Retief (ed) (2016) Esther Mahlangu 80, Cape Town: 34FineArt, exhibition catalogue, illustrated in colour on page 34.

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