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South Africa's best-known painting to be auctioned

  24 February 2009     Archived

Probably the best-known South African painting in the world, Frans Oerder's still-life Magnolias, is to be auctioned in Johannesburg on the 9th of March by South Africa's dynamic new auction house – Strauss & Co.

In the 1930s The New York Graphic Society purchased Magnolias from Oerder with the purpose of reproducing the picture. The reproductions first went on sale in 1939 and proved to be extremely popular. In time ‘Magnolias’ became the best-selling still-life reproduction in the world. Today the reproductions are still sought after and treasured in thousands of homes across the Western World.

Coincidently, a still-life of magnolias by Irma Stern, will also be offered for sale. Executed in 1947 it presents a fascinating opportunity to compare the widely different styles of these two artists – a highly accomplished academic style versus a somewhat restrained expressionistic rendition. One cannot help but ponder the possibility that Irma Stern, on learning of Oerder’s success, set out to paint the same subject in a manner she felt would do it justice. Both these paintings are of an extremely high quality and display the artists’ great talent. Although the Oerder might be better known it is expected to fetch only R600 000 - R900 000 as against R2,8million – R3,4million for the Stern.

Also included in the sale are several other highly important works of art. Probably the most moving is The Old Oyster Woman (Lot 85) by Dorothy Kay. This powerful portrait of an elderly coloured woman clearly shows that life had taken its toll on her but reflects a certain pride. Dorothy Kay felt a strong empathy towards the sitter, Louisa Williams, and we are fortunate to have her own feelings about the sitter recorded –‘her manner the finest that any person of gentle birth could wish to have’. There are two other versions of this portrait, both in public collections.

Jean Welz’s Still Life with Three Vessels and Checked Tablecloth is from his most sought after period. It relates strongly to his Earthenware and Cupboard Door in the South African National Gallery, Cape Town, which has been described as one of the ‘high points’ in South African painting.

Of a totally different nature but with an important provenance is Anton van Wouw’s bronze figure Die Noitjie van die Onderveld, (Lot 11). This particularly fine bronze cast was presented to President and Mrs M T Steyn on the occasion of their silver wedding anniversary by the Zuid Afrikaansche Vrouwen Federatie. A bound and tooled leather folder which contains the presentation letter and hundreds of signatures of subscribers accompany this lot.

Although the sale comprises only 165 lots Strauss and Co anticipate a total in the order of R30million to R40million, giving an average estimate per lot of around R200000 – undoubtedly a record for a South African art auction. This can be accounted for by the fact that many of the works on offer are important paintings by South Africa’s currently most sought after artists such as Pierneef, Wenning, Freida Lock, Hugo Naude and Irma Stern. Nevertheless, there is something for all pockets with estimates varying from R4000 to R4million.

Strauss & Co, a new force to be reckoned with in the South African auction world, is headed by Elizabeth Bradley with Dr Conrad Strauss, Francis Antonie, Mary-Jane Darroll and Stephan Welz as directors. The latter two add a wealth of art expertise and experience. The Cape Town office which was launched last week is headed by three stalwarts of the South African art scene: Bina Genovese, Ann Palmer and Vanessa Phillips.

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Bina Genovese
Executive Director
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