Evening Sale

Live Virtual Auction, 28 May 2024

Evening Sale

Sold for

ZAR 1 486 875
Lot 146
  • Alexis Preller; Breying the Riems
  • Alexis Preller; Breying the Riems
  • Alexis Preller; Breying the Riems

Lot Estimate
ZAR 1 200 000 - 1 800 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 1 486 875
Cape Town

About this Item

South African 1911-1975
Breying the Riems

signed and dated '35

oil on canvas
61 by 46cm excluding frame; 91 by 53 by 7,5cm including frame


Wet behind the ears and leaning towards a career in the theatre, Preller arrived in London in 1934. With a letter of introduction in his pocket from Norman Eaton, the Pretoria-based architect, Preller met Henk Pierneef at South Africa House, where the older artist was engaged in a major commission under Sir Herbert Baker. After some convincing, Preller enrolled at the Westminster School of Art. Quickly falling under the sway of Mark Gertler, whose own work was typified by solid forms, bold colours and a folksy spirit, Preller began painting in a gently Post-Impressionist mode. Visiting local museums whenever he had the opportunity, he paid particular attention to the works of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Preller returned to Pretoria in 1935, determined to make a career as a painter. His first shows that year, at Leon Levson’s Photographic Studio in Johannesburg, and Glen’s Music Salon in Pretoria, owed much to Van Gogh and Gauguin, and included Breying the Riems and Man in the Sun, two iconic paintings from this early period.

In Breying the Riems, the rural, ‘peasantlike’ figure, with straw hat, engaged in manual labour, iconographically draws on Van Gogh’s paintings made in the South of France 47 years earlier in 1888. The hat and the striding figure might echo Van Gogh’s images of himself as an itinerant painter walking through the sundrenched landscape, and the structural composition calls to mind his distinctive renditions of the Langlois drawbridge at Arles, but the subject matter of Breying the Riems is particularly South African. Preller’s scaffolded, formal arrangement is based on the rudimentary structure built to enable the twisting and softening of lengths of leather to make the bindings – or riempies – used in the stringing of seats of local furniture, as well as more generally for the securing of wooden structures. The dramatic light in Preller’s work casts intense blue shadows on the vivid orange-yellow circular tread path, a powerful contrast to the complementary and intense, gusty blue sky beyond the emerald green band of cacti.


Purchased directly from the artist and thence by descent.

Private Collection.

Strauss & Co, Johannesburg, 7 November 2016, lot 215.

Private Collection.


Strauss & Co, London, Alexis Preller: Surreal Discovery, 5 to 10 March 2024.


Esmé Berman and Karel Nel (2009) Alexis Preller: Africa, the Sun and Shadows, Johannesburg: Shelf Publishing, illustrated in colour on page 29.

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