Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts, Jewellery and Fine Wine

Live Virtual Auction, 8 - 11 November 2020

Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art Part I

Sold for

ZAR 295 880
Lot 814
  • Judith Mason; Women Artists Need Wives
  • Judith Mason; Women Artists Need Wives
  • Judith Mason; Women Artists Need Wives
  • Judith Mason; Women Artists Need Wives
  • Judith Mason; Women Artists Need Wives

Lot Estimate
ZAR 200 000 - 300 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 295 880

About this Item

South African 1938-2016
Women Artists Need Wives


pencil, oil and gold leaf on board
181 by 152cm excluding frame; 188 by 157 by 4cm including frame


Esmé Berman calls it visual synecdoche – Judith Mason’s practice of using ‘a fragment of a personal icon or element of an objective form, employed to represent the whole; which whole was, in itself, a metaphor for some other entity or thought.’1 And this is abundantly clear in Mason’s Women Artists Need Wives: the personal icons harnessed in this stupendous portrait include a disembodied pair of denim dungarees, often worn by Mason in her studio; a set of faces portrayed from different angles, frontal and in profile, floating on top of the dungarees; and two implied, outstretched Shiva-like arms, the pair of hands visible. Not only do these elements constitute the self, the individual artist, Judith Mason, but also another entity or thought, namely the creative artist in general.

The hands are the artistic tools with which Mason creates her icons; they write as much as they paint. In the top left corner of the canvas three collagelike pieces of paper contains texts in her own hand, one exhibiting a distinct self-deprecating tone: ‘These fragments I have shaped against my ruins’; the other, a wry comment on the nature of artistic creators: ‘Artists are like fragile jesters in a mirror’. It is, however, the sheer beauty created by these hands that triumphs in the end. They create such phenomenal images as the intertwined body of a snake spiralling upwards on the implied left arm and morphing into a magnificent magnolia flower standing for its mouth. A mischievous monkey is perched on her right hand, a hand is dipping a tea bag, quite humorous and quotidian-like, into an overflowing, if not spilled cup of tea.

Mason stashed away her images, her icons, in a grid-like structure at bottom right, images that include various depictions of hot air balloons and flying kites.

Mason continuously expands and reflects on her icons and their usefulness and their significance. Of animals, such as the endearing monkey, she references Claude Levi-Strauss, saying ‘Animals are not only good to eat, they are also useful to think with.’2 She builds up quite comprehensive, always lyrical and poetic, and yet sophisticated, sets of synecdoche, as is very evident in the Mason offerings on this sale, all metaphors for disparate belief systems such as animism in Tree Form (lot 817), mysticism in Reaching for the Sun (lot 818) and mythology in Pegasus (lot 819).

‘Only painting and poetry’, the artist says, ‘do not need the scholarly dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s. They enter at once into metaphor and have their own authority … The arts can transfigure ideas very quickly and at a profound level. Herein lies their power.’3 Mason’s Women Artists Need Wives certainly exudes this type of power.

1. Esmé Berman (1983) Art and Artists of South Africa, Cape Town: AA Balkema, page 276.
2. Judith Mason (1990) An Essay on Encountering Dante’s Creatures, appendix in the artist’s book, A Dante Bestiary, New York: Ombondi Editions.
3. Judith Mason (1973) ‘A Prospect of Icons’, in Frieda Harmsen (ed) Art and Articles, Cape Town: AA Balkema, page 190.


Judith Mason (1989) Talking Pictures: A Scrapbook with Word Comments, Broederstroom: Broederstoom Press, illustrated in colour on page 84.

View all Judith Mason lots for sale in this auction

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