Live Virtual Auction, 17 - 18 May 2021

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Lot 134
  • Robert Hodgins; A Voice from the Thirties
  • Robert Hodgins; A Voice from the Thirties
  • Robert Hodgins; A Voice from the Thirties
  • Robert Hodgins; A Voice from the Thirties
  • Robert Hodgins; A Voice from the Thirties
  • Robert Hodgins; A Voice from the Thirties

Lot Estimate
ZAR 600 000 - 800 000
Selling Price

About this Item

South African 1920-2010
A Voice from the Thirties
inscribed with a line from a sonnet by the poet WH Auden (1938); signed, dated 2004 and inscribed with the title on the reverse
oil on canvas
90 by 120cm excluding frame; 97 by 125 by 4cm including frame


The inscription at the bottom of Robert Hodgins’ painting A Voice from the Thirties, “They are, and suffer; that is all they do” is quoted from the first line of a well-known sonnet by WH Auden, a favourite poet of the artist’s. It also appears at the bottom of an earlier work of a blood-soaked battlefield, exhibited at Goodman Gallery in 1996. The poem captured Auden’s experiences during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and was included in the 1939 anthology, Journey to War. Hodgins grew up in 1930s London, saying nostalgically “I, ten, a country ten, a gentle, as yet unbullied ten, landed suddenly at Paddington for eight years of emotional, psychological, and often physical squalor: bed bugs, a sofa as often as a bed, being shopped about. Working-class life in the Depression thirties. It was grim, but it was in those eight years that I began to discover literature, music, the visual arts. I worked in a shop in Soho, the ‘Libraire Populaire’ in Dean Street. Soho was already haunted by the likes of Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon, Auden, Isherwood and Co.”1 Apart from the literary allusion, Hodgins also references Vincent van Gogh’s famous Potato Eaters in the composition of the present lot. Van Gogh, whose work he saw in the National Gallery in London in the Thirties was also signalled by Hodgins as one of his favourite artists.

They are, and suffer; that is all they do;

A bandage hides the place where each is living,

His knowledge of the world restricted to

The treatment that the instruments are giving.

And lie apart like epochs from each other.

Truth in their sense is how much they can bear.

It is not talk like ours, but groans they smother—

And are remote as plants; we stand elsewhere.

For who when healthy can become a foot?

Even a scratch we can’t recall when cured …

But are boist’rous in a moment and believe …

In the common world of the uninjured, and cannot …

Imagine isolation. Only happiness is shared …

And anger, and the idea of love.

WH Auden

1. Robert Hodgins (2002) ‘A String of Beads: An interview with Robert Hodgins’, in Brenda Atkinson, Robert Hodgins, Cape Town: Tafelberg, pages 22 and 24.

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