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Collectors spoilt for choice at Strauss & Co's Cape Town auction in March

  21 January 2011     Archived

While Irma Stern still holds the record for the highest price ever paid for a South African painting on home soil, achieved when her Gladioli sold for R13 368 000 at Strauss & Co's October 2010 auction, two paintings are competing for the top honours at Strauss & Co's March 2011 auction.

Stern’s Lemon Pickers (R10 000 000 – 14 000 000) is one of the most exciting paintings to come to the market in recent years. Not only is it of exceptional quality but it is a very early work painted in 1928 that confirms Stern as a unique and pioneering artist amongst her peers. The painting effectively describes Stern’s vision of an idyllic and unspoilt paradise. An oft-quoted remark by her – “I fled from burning Europe into a land of strong colours” – illuminates the passions that drove her. Like Paul Gauguin she sought a fantastic and exotic alternative to conventional European culture.

By contrast, Jacob Hendrik Pierneef’s Extensive Landscape Northern Transvaal (R10 000 000 – 15 000 000) bears all the hallmarks of his mature style. This typical bushveld scene near Polokwane in Limpopo Province is transformed through the artist’s unique vision. A panoramic view highlights the soaring heights of the blue sky and the phenomenal breadth of the landscape with impressive splendour, accentuating the enduring aspects of nature despite seasonal changes.

Two paintings of Delphiniums allow for a comparison of Irma Stern’s handling of similar subjects in diverse media. While the earlier gouache (R900 000 – 1 200 000) employs pastel tonalities to achieve tranquil effects, the oil painting (R10 000 000 – 12 000 000) produced four years later emphasises the strong contrasts of complementary colours in a composition that is energised with vitality and drama.

Stern was at the height of her powers when she painted Still Life with Camellias (R3 000 000 – 4 000 000) in 1940, Still Life of Roses and Apples (R7 000 000 – 9 000 000) in 1944 and Grand Canal, Venice (R4 000 000 – 6 000 000) in 1948. As the late Professor Neville Dubow maintained in his monograph on the artist:
The point is simply this: in the period between the First and Second World Wars, Irma Stern’s work achieved a peak of excellence that could stand comparison with representational paintings anywhere else in the West. ... judged purely by the yardstick of dynamic painting – perceptual and sensual, rather than conceptual and intellectual, sheer picture-making, in fact – one could claim international stature for her work of the 1940s. Nationally ... there was no one to touch her in terms of her impact on the local scene.

Pieter Wenning’s Claremont, CP (R800 000 – 1 200 000) and Keerom Street, Cape Town (R700 000 – 900 000) provide us with two complementary views of early Cape Town: one of the typically rustic suburbs and the other of a modern city in the early twentieth century while Maggie Laubser’s Oestyd (R400 000 – 600 000) creates a pastoral idyll of landscape and rural workers evocative of the Malmesbury area where she grew up.

Alexis Preller’s Gold Kouros (R1 800 000 – 2 200 000) is infused with his love of Greek culture and of the perfect male form, calling to mind the timelessness of antiquity. In The Patio, Nerja (R600 000 – 900 00) Stanley Pinker captures the pleasurable experience of this Spanish coastal resort with the sensuous elegance typical of many French artists like Matisse. Freida Lock’s legendary Bohemian lifestyle and her love of exotic objects are brought to life with typical flare in Two Coffee Pots (R700 000 – 1 000 000).  As Walter Battiss proclaimed “The freshness of all Freida Lock’s still life paintings has brought about a new appreciation of this art in South Africa”.

Christo Coetzee’s Et in Arcadia Ego (R120 000 – 160 000) celebrates Poussin’s famous painting, the rose windows of Notre Dame and the cycles of life while evoking the retro-chic Paris of the fifties and sixties. William Kentridge’s drawings (R180 000 – 240 000 and R180 000 – 220 000), related to the film Stereoscope, suggest free-floating associations and assert what the artist has called “a sense of both contradictory and complementary parallel parts of oneself”.

South African photographers continue to achieve international acclaim and yet are seldom collected here with sufficient seriousness. Now collectors can choose from a Goldblatt hand print from his In Boksburg essay (R70 000 – 90 000), a Zwelethu Mthethwa from his Sugar Cane series (R50 000 – 70 000), a Mikhael Subotzky from his Beaufort West series (R40 000 – 60 000) or a pair of Andrew Putter’s stunning still lifes from the Hottentots Holland: Flora Capensis series (R25 000 – 35 000 each).

Emma Bedford, Senior Paintings Specialist, Strauss & Co

Monday 7 March
From Friday 4 March to Sunday 6 March from 10am to 5pm
Stephan Welz and Emma Bedford
Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 March at 11am
021 683 6560 / mobile 078 044 8185
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Bina Genovese, Executive Director
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