Live Virtual Auction, 11 - 12 October 2021

Sold for

R 1 422 500
Lot 323
Erik Laubscher; Still Life with Papaya, recto; Still Life with Lemons, verso

Lot Estimate
R 1 400 000 - 1 600 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium and VAT
R 1 422 500

About this Item

South African 1927-2013
Still Life with Papaya, recto; Still Life with Lemons, verso
signed and dated 52; inscribed with the artist's name and the title on a Pretoria Art Museum label on the reverse
oil on canvas
70,5 by 91cm excluding frame


Erik Laubscher’s paintings from the 1950s mark a distinctive phase in his early biography. Notwithstanding their formal distinctiveness within his larger corpus of mostly landscape paintings, his ‘School of Paris’ still lifes are greatly prized by collectors. Laubscher synthesised the various influences of his French education in the 1940s: Leger’s monumental forms, Braque’s flattened planarity, Picasso’s cubist innovations and Matisse’s opulent colouration and clearly delineated forms.

While in Paris Laubscher fell strongly under the influence of Bernard Buffet, a key figure in the voguish ‘miserabilist’ school of French expressionist painting. Lot 323 is revealing of Laubscher’s infatuation with Buffet, both in his choice of subject (a still life with pears in the recto composition) and sense of colour (notably the greys and diminished greens). Laubscher’s brand of new realism was, however, never as graphic or reduced as that of Buffet, whose early post-war works displayed an existential barrenness that Laubscher never aspired to. The abundant colour on the right of the picture plane, notably figured in the yellow jug, is a marker of an internal optimism that Laubscher fully revealed in his mature landscape pieces, as can also be seen in lots 326, 327 and 328.

Laubscher approached his compositions with jouissance and vigour. This is evident in his sgraffito detailing of the pitted interior of the papaya in the recto composition, which features knotted lines scratched into the black paint, as well as the composition with lemons, grapes and pears on the verso. This cubist rendering, with its breezily detailed white cloth, is far more crowded than the gracefully achieved recto composition. It is nonetheless revealing of Laubscher’s influences and evolution. Writing in the catalogue accompanying Laubscher’s 1994 retrospective at the University of Stellenbosch Museum, director Muller Ballot noted that the painter’s works from the 1950s prepared the way for what became hallmarks of his practice: the ‘responsible simplification’ of forms, expressive use of colour and ‘imaginative absorption’ of the essential characteristics of whatever he painted.1

Laubscher’s contemporary style of painting made an immediate impact when he first exhibited it in Cape Town. Writing in 1952, Walter Battiss described his work as “compelling”, adding that Laubscher’s ability to “paint big canvases with satisfying assurance” represented “a challenge to stale ideas in the Cape”.2 Matthys Bokhorst, who later became director of the South African National Gallery, commended Laubscher’s still lifes for their “stylised realism with strong cubistic elements”.3

1. Muller Ballot (1994) Erik Laubscher, Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch, page 8.
2. Walter Battiss (1952) New Art and Old Art in South Africa in The Studio, Volume 144, page 70.
3. Matthys Bokhorst (1955) Exhibition by Erik Laubscher in Cape Times, 24 September.


Hans Fransen (2009) Erik Laubscher: A Life in Art, Stellenbosch: SMAC ART Gallery, illustrated in black and white on page 49 in the background of a photograph of the artist with Paul du Toit.

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