Important South African and International Art

Live Auction, 4 June 2018

Session Three

Sold for

ZAR 569 000
Lot 261
  • Erik Laubscher; Still Life with Bowl and Vessel

Lot Estimate
ZAR 250 000 - 350 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 569 000

About this Item

South African 1927-2013
Still Life with Bowl and Vessel
signed and dated '63
oil on board
50 by 59,5cm excluding frame


Erik Laubscher produced numerous still lifes throughout his career, even after his decisive embrace of abstraction following a holiday to Bushman’s River Mouth in 1953. Stylistically diverse, they track his evolution as a painter and abiding commitment to this ostensibly confining painterly genre. Trained in London and Paris, Laubscher’s earliest still lifes are in a mannerist School of Paris style and reflect the influence of Bernard Buffet, a fashionable painter of the ‘miserabilist’ school of French expressionism. Laubscher’s infatuation with Buffet was short-lived.

‘In the last few paintings I did in Paris there was a big shift towards more colour, away from the subdued, Buffet-type greys and greens of the New Realists,’ recalled Laubscher in 2008.1 His updated palette included brilliant reds, fleshy pinks and varying registers of yellow and green. Colour is an elemental aspect of Laubscher’s work after his return to South Africa in 1951. His reds especially possess a remarkable vitality and visual energy that is not easily reproduced in a photograph.

Compositionally, this lot bears out Laubscher’s refusal of ‘perspective gimmicks’ and habit of flattening the picture plane.2 A quintessential modernist gesture, objects are horizontally and vertically rendered in a unified plane: the table here is portrayed from an aerial view, the vessel is seen in side view, and the fruit bowl is viewed from a slightly elevated vantage that is between the two previous extremes. Laubscher perfected this technique in his still lifes from the 1950s, notably Still Life with Coffee Pot and Fruit from 1952 (sold for R2 273 600 by Strauss & Co in March 2018). Where that earlier picture is noteworthy for its stylistic transition away from Buffet and abundant use of patterning and visual decoration, here Laubscher’s emphasis is solidly on form and volume.

This updated approach is perhaps unsurprising: Laubscher was now gleaning his insights from abstractedly portraying South Africa’s landscapes. In a 1965 Cape Times interview Laubscher described how his treatment of landscape was still informed by a two-dimensional understanding of pictorial space: ‘The moment you use perspective your eye travels to a certain point and there it stops and the painting becomes static. I am more concerned with expressing infinite space.’3 The flattened plane evoked in this composition is also the expression of an infinite space. There is no hierarchy of subjects or forms; everything, including the obviously mimetic elements, are integrated into a unified whole.

Notwithstanding these formal innovations, this lot is recognisably a still life. It differs in this respect from another work from 1963, Still Life with Black Bowl and Fruit (sold for R240 000 by Strauss & Co in 2016), a depthless composition dominated by graphically orchestrated blocks of colour that surround a small bowl containing three fruit rendered in sour greens. The green fruit in this lot is of the same tree, perhaps, but the overall impression conveyed by this picture is of a synthesis of colour, form and subject. The composition emerges from a foundation of vivid red, a colour expressive of the optimism and jouissance of Laubscher’s palette.

1. Hans Fransen (2008). Erik Laubscher: A Life in Art, Cape Town: SMAC. Page 261.
2. Stephen Gray (1970). ‘Erik Laubscher and Landscape’, Lantern, Vol. XIX, March 1970. Page 14.
3. Ibid., page 15.

Sean O’Toole

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