Important South African and International Art

Live Auction, 7 November 2016

Evening Sale

Sold for

ZAR 1 114 064
Lot 242
  • Alexis Preller; David

Lot Estimate
ZAR 250 000 - 350 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 1 114 064

About this Item

South African 1911-1975

signed and dated '52

oil on panel
25,5 by 30,5cm excluding frame


This painting appears in a number of remarkable photographs, taken by the photographer Richard Cutler, of Alexis Preller in his Toscadi studio in Pretoria in 1949, shortly after the artist's return from the Seychelles. When Esmé Berman and I were working on the double volume, Alexis Preller: Africa, the Sun and Shadows and Alexis Preller: Collected Images, we were unable to find or trace this painting in the exhibition listings of the time. We therefore deduced that the work left his studio between exhibitions and was therefore unrecorded. It is a much-delayed but special experience to be able to view this work at close quarters now.

Preller's themes are often complex, mythological, symbolical and biblical. Figures such as Adam, St. Sebastian and Christ appear as protagonists in his work. They appear as mythological themes rather than religious Christian motifs, but are used as tropes of deep psychological experiences empathized with, by both himself, and his potential viewers.

By deduction I surmise that this young lithe man, with his beautifully rendered hand in its poignant gesture of being raised to his chest is the youthful biblical David: the striking torso, a taut loincloth around his hips, stands facing us with a sling held in his lowered hand. His self-composed stance ambiguously reads either as courageous readiness or incredulous disbelief of his miraculous defiance and defeat of the giant, Goliath. A majestic, dark viridian green mountain looms behind him as he stands with poise in a valley. A thin arced line at the mountain base alludes to a river, where he stands alone on the umber-coloured alluvial plane.

The characteristic presence of egrets, typical of this period in Preller's work, create a spatial ambiguity as the sumptuous, ruffled-feathered bird closest to him looks out beyond, while the small egret seems to clamber awkwardly up the vertical terrain.

Curiously, Preller edits the David, focusing specifically on the body language of the torso rather than the extremities of head and lower legs. His youthful body type is not yet stylised into the Kouroi figures of Preller's later oeuvre, but talks to a refined but nevertheless heroic representation. The representation is possibly an unconscious reflection of Preller's own slight, light yet muscular body, which can be seen under the artist's white overall in the Constance Stuart-Larrabee photograph of the young Preller in his studio in the mid-1940s.


The Collection of the Late Mrs Liselotte Hardebeck.

Purchased by the late owners from Henri Lidchi Art Gallery, 1967.


Berman and Nel. The work can be seen to two of Richard Cutler's black photographs on pages L and H.

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