“Mapogga” (or “Mapoch”) is the name of a subgroup of the old, Southern-Transvaal Ndebele, who took the name from one of their former chiefs. Alexis Preller’s Mapogga Figures, metaphors for matriarchy and nature, began to appear in his paintings from around the late 1940s, towards the end of his occupancy at his Pretoria studio, Ygdrasil. One of the earliest studies of that figure was exhibited at Gallery Vincent, Pretoria in 1950 – the first of the similarly composed works bearing the title Grand Mapogga. A comparable version of the matriarchal Mapogga figure, though standing upright in this example, had already appeared as early as 1949 in the painting entitled The Storm.
It was not uncommon for Preller to revisit his subjects and the first two accomplished examples of this theme appeared in 1951. Grand Mapogga I and II (1951) were smaller, pre-emptive versions created many years prior in the development of the statelier Grand Mapogga I, II and III (1957) produced six years later.
Preller had an eccentric belief that there should be three versions of any major work.1 The trinity of Grand Mapogga’s from 1957 signal the apotheosis of this theme and define a gifted artist at the height of his creative prowess. All three were first exhibited in a group show at Vorster’s Gallery, Pretoria, in December 1957 – the exhibition at which the current owner’s father purchased this painting.2 Grand Mapogga III, the final example from the last series engaging the theme, bears testimony to the distinct perception of an African identity in the work of Alexis Preller, giving tangible form to his idea of a mythical race.
Steeped in resplendent tranquillity, Grand Mapogga III is a highly significant work, a luxuriously rich painting with subtle, muted hues reminiscent of the African landscape, with the generous proportions of a true fertility goddess.
1 Berman, Esmé and Nel, Karel, Alexis Preller: Africa, the Sun and Shadows, Shelf Publishing, Johannesburg, 2009, page 194.
The late Dr Hennie Meyer.
Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria, Alexis Preller Retrospective, 24 October - 26 November 1972, catalogue number 94.
Berman, Esmé and Nel, Karel, Alexis Preller: Africa, the Sun and Shadows, Shelf Publishing, Johannesburg, 2009, page 195, illustrated in colour.
Berman, Esmé and Nel, Karel, Alexis Preller: Collected Images, Shelf Publishing, Johannesburg, 2009, page 176, illustrated in colour.