Press Office

Chemist dispenses groundbreaking art collection

  5 November 2014     Archived

Strauss & Co is proud to announce the sale of the illustrious Harry Lits Collection of Works by the Amadlozi Group - a highlight of the 10 November auction of Important South African and International Art to be held at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg.

Assembled in the 1960s and 1970s and comprising some 30 works, this collection of seminal works by Amadlozi Group artists, including Cecil Skotnes, Ezrom Legae, Sydney Kumalo and Edoardo Villa. It is undoubtedly one of the finest and most historically significant single-owner sculpture collections to appear on the market in years. Says Ruarc Peffers, Senior Art Specialist at Strauss & Co, "We are extremely privileged to have the opportunity to bring this groundbreaking collection to the market - the sculptures are all excellent examples: supremely cast, exquisitely finished and with beautiful patinas."

A chemist by trade, Harry Lits's collection is a credit to his incredible vision and an insight into the quality and connoisseurship he developed in his abiding love for premium South African art. Age and failing health have prompted his decision to dispose of his art collection built up with the assistance of his neighbour and close friend, Egon Guenther, a passionate collector and promoter of African art. Guenther started the Amadlozi Group, ('amadlozi' meaning Spirit of our forefathers") which consisted of artists he considered worthy of international acclaim and, although their styles differed, they were unified in the pursuit of a pronounced indigenous character in their art, that was essentially true to Africa.

The collection boasts thirteen works by highly acclaimed sculptor, Sydney Kumalo, including his powerful and monumental Figure with Outstretched Arms (estimate R400 000-600 000) which is widely referenced in literature relating to South African art. Kumalo was invited to represent South Africa at the Venice Biennale in 1966, bearing out an appraisal of him as South Africa's best-known, most admired and sought-after figural sculptor. Animal studies were a hallmark of his prodigious output as demonstrated by Man on Beast (estimate R200 000-300 000).

Heralded by artist and critic, Kendell Geers, as one of South Africa's greatest artists, and remembered for his expressive figure drawings and tall elemental sculptures, Ezrom Legae is represented by four important works including, Loneliness (estimate R300 000-500 000). There is a close correspondence between the expressive content of this melancholy work and the artist who, in a 1974 interview, remarked: 'Various moods prevail in my work, I am a very emotional person.'

Celebrated as the epitome of the artist's output and commonly referred to as 'incised paintings' are Conversation (estimate R500 000-700 000) and Four Figures (estimate R150 000-200 000) by Cecil Skotnes, one of South Africa's most significant post-war artists. The Lits collection also features sculptures by Edoardo Villa including two painted steel figures Seated Figure and Standing Form, (estimate R80 000 - 120 000 and R60 000 and 90 000 respectively). Produced in a period of great public acclaim - including a two-man show with fellow Amadlozi group stalwart, Cecil Skotnes at the Pretoria Museum in 1989 - Seated Figure received star billing when Villa was the guest artist at the 1988 Standard Bank Festival of the Arts in Grahamstown.

In addition to the Lits Collection, the quality and breadth of works which form the bulk of the sale is exceptional. Notable are no less than 15 works by JH Pierneef, the master of the South African landscape spanning 30 years of his career. Foremost amongst these, and a late entry to the sale, is a major large scale work titled An Extensive View of Farmlands (estimate R10 000 000 - 12 000 000) which was painted in 1926, during the years referred to by art historian Esme' Berman as Pierneef's "discovery and mastery period". Strauss & Co's Managing Director, Stephan Welz comments: "It is a great honour for Strauss & Co to be handling a work of this quality and calibre which rarely come onto the market. This sale features particularly good works by Pierneef which should attract keen interest. Another major work worth noting is Landscape with River which was executed in 1938 and is expected to fetch R 1 200 000 - 1 600 000."

An example of a later work by Cecil Skotnes, executed in 1994 when he lived in Cape Town, is Feast, a resplendent still life displaying the mature assurance of an artist in complete command of his vocabulary (estimate R800 000 - 1 200 000). Skotnes, who was highly regarded in his lifetime, chaired various councils and received numerous coveted awards, including the highest official homage South Africa accorded its artists, the SA Akademie Medal of honour, in 1976. His influence is pervasive and his unparalleled contribution to the development of the arts in South Africa is evinced in the work he did at the Polly Street Art Centre and with the Amadlozi Group.

Gregoire Boonzaier's recto verso Malay Quarter and Houses and Trees painted in 1959 (estimate R900 000 - 1 200 000) shows two distinct styles: one represents his ongoing interest in the Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, while the other presents an interesting contrast of brightly coloured houses amongst trees.

One of the major themes running through Kentridge's work is the hidden history of the landscape, posing the question of how a landscape is represented and whose stories it ultimately tells, and whether those stories are heard or told at all. Kentridge rejects the stylistic over-simplification and idealisation of the landscape by his predecessors such as JH Pierneef and JEA Volschenk and, as Kate McCrickard notes," he finds an abject beauty in the iron pylons, the pipes and culverts that criss-cross South Africa's veld." Painted in 1991, is a vast 3 metre wide Extensive Landscape with Figures and Swimming Pool (estimate R2 500 000 - 4 000 000), rich with his iconography and imagery. Soho at Desk on Telephone (estimate R1 200 000 - 1 600 000) is a drawing for the animated film, Stereoscope, the eighth in Kentridge's decade-long series featuring Soho Eckstein, the archetypal white Johannesburg businessman of the post-apartheid era. Produced in 1991, the same year that Kentridge received the Rembrandt Gold Medal at the Cape Town Triennial, is Iris, one of a series of drawings of irises, a recurring subject for the artist which he perceived to be difficult to portray (estimate R1 400 000 - 1 800 000).

Other key contemporary works include Proud Professor, by Robert Hodgins (estimate R400 000 - 600 000) and destined to attract collectors, The Golden Wall, which comprises twenty-five individual paintings (estimate R2 000 000 - 3 000 000).

Also included in the sale, is Scapegoat, Wim Botha's extraordinary life-size hybrid goat which became the major focus of interest in his Standard Bank Young Artist Award Exhibition that toured South Africa from 2005-2006 (estimate R900 000 - 1 200 000).

International art which should attract keen interest includes lithographs by Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein and Jim Dine, amongst others.

Press enquiries, Bina Genovese,


Important South African and International Art,
including the Harry Lits Collection of works by the Amadlozi Group
Johannesburg, Monday 10 November 2014

4 pm: Day Sale
8 pm: The Harry Lits Collection of Works by the Amadlozi Group
             followed immediately by Important South African and International Art

Venue: The Wanderers Club Ballroom, 21 North Street, Illovo

Preview: Friday 7 November to Sunday 9 November from 10 am to 5 pm
Walkabout Sunday 9 November at 11 am

Enquiries and catalogues Office: +27 (0) 11 728 8246 Fax: +27 (0) 11 728 8247