Maggie Laubser returned time and again to subjects that resonated with her rural childhood growing up on a Swartland wheat farm, such as harvesters, cats and birds. Muller Ballot writes that the repetition of familiar forms allows the artist to transcend the ‘material’ and stress instead the ‘essential’, such that a painting of birds is less about individual appearance that about birds as a vehicle for compositional unity and visual force, achieved through stern simplicity, angularity of form and strong colour.1
The present lot, Composition (Birds), is one of a series of related works depicting birds and bird-like forms from the 1950s and 60s that range from ostensibly representational paintings, such as Birds in a Landscape (1960–1962), through semi-abstract works including Composition with Birds and Arums (1950) and Composition with Birds and Heads (1950) to fully abstract arrangements like Abstract Composition (1960–1970) (all in the University of Stellenbosch Collection). The stylised bird forms and curvilinear bodies and necks work with overlapping planes and juxtapositions of complimentary colours – blue and orange, red and green – to exemplify the artist’s statement that ‘design is the fundamental basis of all … I harmonise both structure and colour in such a way that it is a coherent whole … according to my ideal of absolute beauty’.2
1 Muller Ballot (2016). Maggie Laubser: A Window on Always Light, Stellenbosch: Sun Media, page 232.
2 Quoted in Ballot (2016), page 251.
Dalene Marais (1994). Maggie Laubser: Her Paintings, Drawings and Graphics, Johannesburg: Perskor, illustrated in black and white on page 364 with the title 'Composition with Birds', catalogue number 1618.
Die Brandwag (1973). 'Jan Prinsloo Gesels oor SA Kunstenaars: Maggie Laubser', 25 May, the painting appears in the background in a photograph of the artist.
Pretoria News (1965). 'Tribute to Cape Artist', 2 November, illustrated in black and white.