Contemporary Art

Live Auction, 16 February 2019

Contemporary Auction

Sold for

ZAR 1 024 200
Lot 44
  • Robert Hodgins; Landscape with Figures

Lot Estimate
ZAR 800 000 - 1 000 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 1 024 200

About this Item

South African 1920-2010
Landscape with Figures
signed, dated '97 and inscribed with the title, medium and 'begun 1/7/97' on the reverse
oil and charcoal on canvas
90 by 120cm excluding frame


Robert Hodgins once famously described ‘painting to be “a bit like surfing” in that a good deal of time is spent bobbing about, waiting for the right wave to come along’.1 Landscape with Figures demonstrates both his artistic restraint and incredible daring, arguably situating Hodgins as the progenitor of contemporary South African painting.

Described by Neil Dundas as ‘enigmatic and romantic’, Hodgins was an artist ‘with a fascinating interpretation of the relationships surrounding him. Through his expressive painting, Hodgins created a parallel universe in which an imaginary human incident took shape in a powerfully affective visual field’.2

Full of the theatrical tropes that characterise his oeuvre, the viewer is greeted by a single figure (Ubu) who stands framed by a proscenium arch painted in a dense field of cadmium red. For the stage and arch, Hodgins uses its opposing complimentary, emerald green. On either side, standing in a watery field of purple is the audience; two totemic figures, whose loving embrace resembles Brancusi’s sculpture, The Kiss.

A hill of deeper purple disappears into the diluted horizon line, where a tiny silhouetted figure who has strayed from the play, stands on board a flash of yellow within a barrelling expanse of delicately rendered light. With a swift swipe, Hodgins pokes at the yellow, leaving just a trace of his brush in an otherwise controlled composition.

Highlighting the importance of Hodgins’ journey through the spectrum, Dundas notes that ‘this division into two utterly different planes, is quite deliberate. There will often be doorways or portals in the sense that someone has moved from their world, rich in colour, to being a sort of outcast’.3

Three days after this painting was started, Hodgins joined William Kentridge and Deborah Bell to present Ubu: +/-101 at the Observatory Museum in Grahamstown as part of the National Arts Festival. Titled Ubu Centenaire: historie d’un farceur criminal, the twenty-four plate portfolio tells the ‘story of a criminal jester’4 and represents each artist’s journey through the character of Ubu.

Ubu’s presence in the colourful drama of this painting signals Hodgins’ Dadaist sensibilities. His determination to test the rules of painting belies an intuitive exploration into the subtleties and limits of his medium. As Dundas recalls ‘He loved the smell and textures and feel of painting on canvas. He’d combine pure pigments and people would say, “You can’t put those colours together.” He’d say, “There are no boundaries in art. If you can make something clash and work together then it will sing.’’’5

  1. Kathryn Smith. (2000) Robert Hodgins: Biography. Artthrob Issue 34. https:// [Accessed 19 December 2018]
  2. Neil Dundas, pers. comm., interview at Robert Hodgins, Past/Modern, Cape Town Art Fair, 19 February, 2017.
  3. ibid.
  4. Rory Doepel. (1997) UBU: ±101: William Kentridge, Robert Hodgins, Deborah Bell, Johannesburg: French Institute of South Africa. 4. ibid.


Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, Hodgins at Goodman Gallery, 1998.

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