Evening Sale

Live Virtual Auction, 19 March 2024

Evening Sale

Sold for

ZAR 4 346 250
Lot 34
  • Alexis Preller; Young King
  • Alexis Preller; Young King
  • Alexis Preller; Young King

Lot Estimate
ZAR 4 000 000 - 6 000 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 4 346 250
Cape Town

About this Item

South African 1911-1975
Young King

signed and dated ‘64; accompanied by a copy of an Everard Read Gallery invoice, dated 25th of September 1987 and an insurance valuation dated 24th November 1987, signed by Ian Keogan, the previous gallery director, and each inscribed with the artist’s name, the title and medium

oil on canvas
71,5 by 66,5cm excluding frame; 89 by 84 by 3cm including frame


Throughout Alexis Preller’s career, he cultivated prototypes or characters which feature prominently in numerous iterations across his body of work. Boy with a Crocodile is one such a prototype in Preller’s oeuvre. In these renditions a young king poses self-confidently with his feet planted on the back of a stylized crocodile, the Ngwenya, the symbol of sacred power amongst the Swazi speaking people of Eswatini.

He undertakes three versions of this heraldic figure, possibly due to unforeseen circumstances. The initial rendition Boy with a Crocodile (fig 1), in subdued blues and browns, was completed in 1964. This painting travelled to America that same year for an exhibition of International Art at the New York World Fair and was lost thereafter for many years, only re-emerging in 2007, long after Preller’s death in 1975.

In response to the disappearance of the original painting, Preller felt compelled to revisit the theme, resulting in two subsequent versions. The larger and most significant of these is precisely executed in brilliant reds and blues and is at present included in his retrospective, curated by Karel Nel, The Mythical Lexicon on view at the Norval Foundation in Cape Town from November 2023 to November 2024 (fig 2).

The painting, Young King also painted in 1964 and currently on offer, is differently titled from the two other versions of Boy with Crocodile. Young King, smaller in scale is painted in rich blues, golden yellows with red and pink accents. While nearly identical to the other two, Young King includes a cartouche – a symbol or seal of pharaonic presence – which is included in the top right-hand corner, and an elongated spotted form partly in silhouette that stretches down the right-hand edge of the painting.

Many details, such as the lower platform, spiky protuberances, and decorative elements, exhibit a more painterly rendition in Young King compared to the other versions, lending the piece a slightly more atmospheric quality.

During this period, Preller searched for imagery that spoke to the significance, power and beauty of art conventions which had evolved in Africa over centuries to honour both temporal and ancestral presence.


The Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg, 25 September 1987.

Private Collection.

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