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Prime views: Strauss & Co sale features exceptional landscapes by SA masters

  25 May 2017     Archived

The landscape was the bedrock of the emerging South African painting canon. This fact is reflected in the exceptional examples by early 20th century South African masters Maggie Laubser, Hugo Naudé, Frans Oerder and JH Pierneef on offer at Strauss & Co’s forthcoming live sale at the Wanderers Club on 5 June.

The undoubted highlight is JH Pierneef's 1928 oil, Farm Jonkershoek with Twin Peaks Beyond, Stellenbosch (estimate R6 - 8 million). Produced during a period of experimentation, discovery and mastery, this majestic lot is notable for the entangled branches of the trees in the foreground. They arc through the sky to form a graceful and masterfully-carved Art Nouveau tracery that is accentuated by the rose, dusky light behind.

The lot is a precursor to Pierneef's celebrated Johannesburg Station Panels of 1929-32, which included a study of Stellenbosch. No comparison between these two major studies of Stellenbosch has been possible until now as the present lot has always remained in private hands, and has never been exhibited or illustrated. This public offering represents a major coup for Strauss & Co.

"Works of this quality and size are few and far between, and a more dramatic, spine-tingling combination of coloured fragments in mauve, violet and electric pink could not have been locked together anymore beautifully," notes Strauss & Co art specialist Wilhelm van Rensburg, who in 2015 mounted a major survey devoted to Pierneef at the Standard Bank Gallery.

Other notable Pierneefs on offer include: Extensive Landscape, Northern Drakensberg (estimate R3 - 4 million), a confidant showcase of this master painter's technical virtuosity; Extensive Landscape with Mountains (R500 000 - 700 000), a gorgeous 1937 example of Pierneef's sought-after casein works on paper; and Landscape with Distant Mountains (R150 000 - 200 000), an unusual expressionist oil achieved in gradations of burnt orange, sullied pink and pallid blue.

Three lots by Maggie Laubser reveal her ability to meld vivid sentiment with artistic innovation. Landscape with Water Carriers and Geese (estimate R700 000 - 1 000 000) is an expressionist idyll describing farm life and was informed by the artist's keen observation of daily rituals on her family farm, Oortmanspost, near Malmesbury. Basutoland Hills (estimate R600 000 - 800 000) and Landscape with Grazing Cow (R500 000 - 700 000) showcase her confidant use of colour to evoke mood.

Other striking lots include Hugo Naudé's View Over the Matopos (R400 000 - 600 000), a far-reaching view over the Matopos in Zimbabwe, and East African Coast (estimate R400 000 - 600 000) by Frans Oerder. Painted in 1903, shortly after Oerder's release from Meintjeskop where he was a prisoner of war, this large oil is a striking example of the painter's observational skills in the field.

"Oerder might be better known for his exquisite still life paintings of delicate flowers and glazed ceramics on polished surfaces, but a picture like the present lot suggests that he also belongs to the same dazzling topographical tradition in Africa as do Thomas Baines, Thomas Bowler, George French Angas, Frederick I'Ons and Hugo Naudé," says art specialist Alastair Meredith, who heads up Strauss & Co's Johannesburg art department.

Two major drawings by William Kentridge executed in 1994 which describe a drive-in screen and megaphone on pylon, both familiar motifs in his oeuvre, are valued at R1.8 - 2.5 million respectively.

Strauss & Co's forthcoming Johannesburg sale is composed of 304 lots. The diverse offering includes a selection of major works by moderns, notably Alexis Preller and Irma Stern, and pioneering contemporaries, such as Robert Hodgins and Penny Siopis.

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