Maggie Laubser, having spent the War years at the Slade in London, arrived, via an important stay in Belgium, in San Vigilio, on the shore of Lake Garda, in October 1920. In the company of Arnold Balwé, her friend, fellow painter, and the son of her great benefactor, Jan Hendrik Balwé, and within such beautiful surroundings, Maggie painted with abandon, free of financial responsibility, and willing to experiment. The work she produced in this period (which ended with a return to South Africa in September 1921) was particularly bold, carefree, and rich with simple colour combinations. These pictures are easily recognised by the deep, shifting blues of the lake; stiff, multi-coloured sails on the water; crooked, simplified olive trees; arrow-straight cypresses; reflections of crumbling villas; and, of course, the sharp-edged, surrounding mountains. Lot 301 is a fine example, showing a view through dramatically shadowed trees, over the azure lake, towards the iconic peak of Monte Pizzocolo.
Maggie returned to Europe in November 1922, and settled in Berlin. Her exposure there to the great German Expressionists – she met Erich Waske, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and spent much time in front of paintings by Franz Marc – left a lasting impression on her work. Lot 302 has much in common with the spirit of these artists, although the lingering influence of Van Gogh, whose work she had become more familiar with while in Antwerp in 1919 and 1920, is more obvious. The facades that make up the harbour town are smears of butter yellow, cream and brown, while the watery shadows and reflections are painted as if a single, moving, decorative mass. The date of the painting – it is clearly marked 22 – exposes a curious mystery: with her travel itinerary in mind, was this European scene painted in South Africa, conjured from memory, and executed in excited anticipation for her return?