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Ten Cent raffle ticket wins half a million Rand artwork

  4 September 2015     Archived

Draw breath for the one shilling Dagga Smoker set for a high of almost half a million Rand at Strauss & Co auction

A famed Dagga Smoker bronze by Anton von Wouw, acquired for a mere shilling on a raffle and cherished by a family for over 70 years, could realise close on half a million rand when it goes under the hammer at the next Strauss & Co auction in Johannesburg in November.

Donated in 1943 by the revered South African sculptor himself as a raffle prize for the Dutch Relief Fund during World War II, the exquisite sculpture was greatly coveted by the family grandmother, who, so overjoyed with the result of her single ticket purchase, has given it pride of place in her homes around the world ever since.

The Dagga Smoker travelled with her to London and Washington when her husband was appointed South African High Commissioner to Britain and the United States. A photograph of the hallowed entrance hall of Highveld House, in Kensington, even shows the much-loved "rooker" enjoying a prominent spot on the High Commissioner's desk.

"It is a highly prized piece and one of two magnificent Van Wouws already consigned for our upcoming auction. Together with two major works by Alexis Preller it promises to be among the highlights of the sale," said Strauss & Co managing director, Stephan Welz.

Welz said the sculpture came with a charming letter from JE Holloway Jnr, the son of the original owner Mrs "Tienie" Holloway, wife of Dr JE Holloway, the Secretary for Finance at the time.

In the letter written from "Sequoia" Haenertsburg in 1999, Holloway Jnr details of how he went shopping one day with his mother:

"It was during the war years and many bodies were collecting money for various causes. My mother spent three shillings on raffles that morning. In her own words:

"For St Johns Ambulance because my brother Baden was up North as a medic through his St Johns work; for the Belgian Relief Fund because I learnt to love the Flemish people when Jack was studying in Ghent before and at the outbreak of the First World War; and for the Dutch Relief Fund because I wanted the Daggaroker."

"I well remember the little shop in the old African Arcade that the Dutch Relief Fund had rented for their fundraising. In pride of place in the window stood the Daggaroker with a notice: Donated by Anton van Wouw. Ticket 1/ - value Sixty Pounds.

"Time passed and one evening as the family was starting dinner I answered a knock at the front door. There was Mijnheer Johannes Postmus, Governor of the S A Reserve Bank, whom I knew well as his son and I were good friends. Postmus, who it transpired was also Chairman of the Dutch Relief Fund, asked to see my father. Presently my father called me back to the front door and together we took delivery of the Daggaroker. We returned to the dinner table and much to my mother's consternation said not a word.

"Dinner finished we went to the lounge as usual and there on the small stinkwood cabinet next to the front door reposed the Daggaroker, a place of honour which it retained all our years in 'Ellensgate'."

"Not only is its provenance unique in that it was given by the artist for the cause of the country of his birth, but it is also arguably one of the last of the casts to have been finished by the artist's own hands. I say this with some confidence as it is on record that his health failed in early 1944, and although he still attempted new projects, he had not the strength to complete any," writes Holloway Jnr in conclusion.

Welz said the Dagga Smoker, which Van Wouw regarded as his best work could also be differentiated as it was one of those expertly cast in bronze at the celebrated G Massa foundry in Rome.

The second and more rare Van Wouw consigned for the November auction is known as the Miner with Hand Drill and shows an African miner in profile cut away from the rock face in high relief.

Signed and dated in 1911 and similarly inscribed "Joh-burg", it was cast at the same Roman foundry. It goes to auction with an estimate of R2,000,000 - 3,000,000.

"It is quite phenomenal in terms of craftsmanship and detailing and confirms why Van Wouw was considered the father of South African sculpture. You can see his finger marks in the moulding, the tiniest of toe nails and the rippling muscles of the seated figure," said Welz.

The two Alexis Prellers already consigned are both important standout works and among the artist's most striking and extraordinarily beautiful paintings.

Significantly, both works, the 1968 Creation of Adam 1, a major oil and gesso on canvas, which has an estimate of R3,000,000 - R4,000,000, and the Apollo Kouros II, a work in oil and gold leaf on fibre glass, carrying estimates of R4,000,000 - R5,000,000, were featured in the major 1972 Preller retrospective at the Pretoria Art Museum. The Apollo Kouros II in fact appeared on the front cover of the catalogue.

"These are just a few of the astonishing lots already consigned for the November auction but with consignments for the sale only closing on Friday 11 September there is just time to contact us if you are interested in selling your fine art," said Welz.

He also encouraged art enthusiasts to visit Strauss & Co's new and upgraded, mobile friendly website as the company enters the last three months of the year's auction season.


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