Live Virtual Auction, 16 - 17 May 2022

Sold for

Lot 130
  • Alexis Preller; The Lobster
  • Alexis Preller; The Lobster
  • Alexis Preller; The Lobster
  • Alexis Preller; The Lobster
  • Alexis Preller; The Lobster

Lot Estimate
R 800 000 - 1 200 000
Selling Price

About this Item

South African 1911-1975
The Lobster
signed and dated '57
oil on wood panel
25 by 30cm excluding frame; 39 by 44 by 2,5cm including frame


Despite his compelling and beautifully refined collection of symbolic motifs, more often than not juxtaposed peculiarly, Alexis Preller’s Surrealist credentials have long been subject to debate. The artist tended to distance himself from the movement, while authorities on his work – Karel Nel, Esmé Berman and Frieda Harmsen among them – have usually separated the development of his visual language from conventional Surrealist goals. There is certainly some benefit in viewing Preller’s work within a Surrealist context, however. A pivotal painting such as Head (Adapting Itself to the Unendurable), for instance, surely draws from the artist’s subconscious, and might be read as a personal attempt to come to terms with repressed emotions. Purely visually, moreover, so many of Preller’s meticulously recreated visions have obvious Surrealist counterparts. Does Mangoes on a Beach not bring to mind an Yves Tanguy landscape, with the latter’s amoeba-like forms and wispy spindles? Does the distant and bewitching Grand Mapogga II not recall the enigmatic and eerily still mindscapes of Giorgio de Chirico? Surely Preller’s exquisite Fish, caught in profile against a flash of electric orange, suspended in a landscape and attended by needlebeaked egrets, might have resonated with Salvador Dalí? So too, surely, The Lobster, the present lot, with its sexual connotations, stalked eyes, unsettling textures, ominous red-lit surroundings, and obscured astrological disc?
Setting aside for the moment any possible Surrealist perspectives, The Lobster is a sensational and offbeat still life painting. The crustacean is described with textbook accuracy, its body angled to show off an armoured tail, neat swimmerets, skeletal legs and spiny antennae. Segments of serrated shell glint in the light, and pearly spots decorate the head and legs. Preller’s restricted colour combinations are simply gorgeous: speckles of pink show up against the darker crimson of the body, while shades of coral and maroon gently compete elsewhere. The artist’s important visit to the Seychelles from 1948 to 1949 goes some way to explaining the subject of the painting. He had been taken by the dazzling colours of the fish on the islands, the patterns of the shells, and the shapes and exotic scents of the tropical fruit and flowers, incorporating many of these objects into subsequent compositions. Some were absorbed into his catalogue of motifs – think of the fish, shells and fleshy fruit – and symbolically transformed over time.


Acquired from the artist by his friend Tobie Louw, and thence by descent.

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