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Homecoming: Strauss & Co offers lost treasures of SA art

  14 October 2016     Archived

A key work by painter Alexis Preller, for decades presumed lost, is among the standout lots on Strauss & Co’s forthcoming Johannesburg summer auction. The sale, scheduled to take place at the Wanderers Club on 7 November, includes a number of important works repatriated to this country from international collections, notably by Preller, Walter Battiss, Cecil Skotnes and Edoardo Villa.

Produced in 1969, Preller's intaglio and oil on fibreglass work Adam (estimate R6 500 000 - 9 000 000) was acquired by prominent American collectors Ruth and Jerome Siegel and left country shortly after it was executed. This is the first time the near life-size rendition of Adam will be on display in South Africa since its acquisition by the Siegels. Described by artist and historian Karel Nel as a "powerful, enigmatic work of immense complexity", the work's significance in Preller's oeuvre and exceptional provenance will doubtlessly attract competitive bidding.

Another rare and important Preller work on offer is Space Angel (estimate R4 000 000 - 6 000 000), built up in the artist's unique high-relief gesso technique and showing a disembodied aquiline head with sensuous lips. It is the first time this work will go under the hammer since the artist's estate was sold in March 1978. Interest in quality works by Preller was clear when bidding at Strauss & Co's recent Cape Town auction saw Egrets, a jewel-like painting from 1953 with clear affinities to an upcoming lot titled Ritual Bull (estimate R80 000 - 120 000), far exceeded estimates and sold for R545 664.

Nel, a leading Preller expert and co-author with Esmé Berman of the respected 2009 monograph on the artist, will present a lecture on the importance of the Preller works on offer by Strauss & Co. His lecture, titled The Lost Prellers, will take place at Strauss & Co's Johannesburg offices on Monday, 17 October, at 6pm.

Another important homecoming is signaled in two large-scale panels by Battiss that have been repatriated from Australia. The oil on board works, Rock Art Composition I & II (estimate R1 800 000 - 2 200 000 each) show the style-shifting influence of South African rock art on Battiss. On the back of the well-received Walter Battiss: I Invented Myself exhibition at the Wits Art Museum, interest in this much-loved artist is sure to be marked. Strauss & Co is also offering the artist's instantly recognizable Limpopo (estimate R900 000 - 1 200 000).

Extra wall power is provided by Cecil Skotnes's monumental quadriptych Figure Panels (estimate R2 000 000 - 3 000 000). Its beautifully incised and painted surface ranks as one of the artist's most significant works. Villa, a fellow member of the Amadlozi Group with Skotnes, is also represented on the sale with Female Form (estimate 120 000 - 160 000). The elegant figurative bronze is also from the Siegel Collection. Sculptures by Lucas Sithole and Ezrom Legae, also members of the Amadlozi Group, add depth to Strauss & Co's offering.

The on-going robust performance of Robert Hodgins at auction, confirmed at Strauss & Co's October sale in Cape Town, suggests that there will be keen interest in this painter's Howling at the Age of Dawn (estimate R700 000 - 900 000). An outstanding colourist, this work represents an important acquisition for any Hodgins collector, due in large part to its overt referencing of Francis Bacon.

Sought after drawings by leading South African artists William Kentridge and Penny Siopis will no doubt attract competitive bidding, particularly as both artists are to be represented in the upcoming South Africa: The Art of a Nation exhibition at The British Museum in London. Strong works by Dorothy Kay, Andrew Verster and Norman Catherine will also be on view, as will landmark sculptures by important contemporary pioneers Jane Alexander and Deborah Bell.

Top contemporary artists are also brought to the fore with major examples from Deborah Poynton, Willem Boshoff, Walter Oltmann, Joni Brenner, Pieter Hugo, Gerard Marx and Georgina Gratrix making Strauss & Co's summer auction unmissable.

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