30 August 2017 *Archived
A portrait of a raffish shepherd by Maggie Laubser, a stylised homage to Hieronymus Bosch by Alexis Preller, two drawings of William Kentridge's fictional alter ego and a night sky landscape by John Meyer, form part of Strauss & Co's substantial offering at its forthcoming live sale in Cape Town, which will be held at the Vineyard Hotel on 16 October.
The sale, which spans three distinct periods in this country's art history, foregrounds how artistic innovation has been a constant of South African art, since the early beginnings of a national tradition following unification to the worldly present of the post-apartheid years.
The lots on offer include important pieces by earlier twentieth-century masters like Hugo Naudé, Maggie Laubser, JH Pierneef and Irma Stern; mid-century trailblazers like Walter Battiss, Peter Clarke, Erik Laubscher, Cecil Skotnes and Alexis Preller; and globally acclaimed contemporary artists like William Kentridge.
"As is a hallmark of every Strauss & Co sale, quality is a consistent marker of the works on offer," says Strauss & Co chairman, Frank Kilbourn. "The key lots from our Cape Town sale are all definitive examples by the artists, and worthy of serious collector interest."
Strauss & Co's Cape Town sale is preceded by a calendar of social events, public lectures and a special pop-up exhibition at the One&Only, V&A Waterfront, which will run from 13-17 September. The exhibition will present a curated selection of auction highlights and is timed to coincide with the VIP previews of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), which opens to the general public on 22 September.
A strong showing of South African masters
Collectors of JH Pierneef will delight in the selection of botanicals and landscapes on offer at Strauss & Co's live sale. Pierneef was a foremost painter of trees, as is evident in a 1944 oil depicting a majestic leadwood tree, Hardekoolboom in a Bushveld Landscape (estimate R2 - R3 million). An early pastel work from 1913, Willow Trees in Summer (estimate R250 000 - R350 000), demonstrates Pierneef's accomplished draughtsmanship.
Pierneef's evolving style as a painter is recorded in his oil on hessian Apies River, Pretoria, with Meintjies Kop Beyond (estimate R1.6 - R2.4 million). The work depicts a favourite Pretoria landscape of the artist and also marks his shift towards a more simplified graphic style that would win Pierneef national acclaim. An unusual part of his output, in May 2016 Strauss & Co achieved R 1 079 960 for the smaller oil on hessian, Umbrealla Thorn. Elim (estimate R700 000 - R900 000) is a 1926 study in oil of Cape Dutch cottages at a mission village on the Agulhas Plain.
The sale also includes two casein landscapes, highly prized works that reveal Pierneef's great dexterity with the paintbrush. Produced in 1924, Jonkershoek: Stellenbosch (estimate R500 000 - R700 000), is an early complete rendering of the famous peaks of Stellenbosch. "This intimate casein constitutes a veritable jewel in Pierneef's crown of creative output," says Strauss & Co specialist, Wilhelm van Rensburg.
Important works by Maggie Laubser rarely come to market, so there is justifiable excitement around The Old Shepherd (estimate R2.8 - R3.4 million), a striking portrait of a confident herdsman with two peacock feathers in his hat. A recurring protagonist in Laubser's work, the Bloemfontein-born shepherd worked at the painter's family farm, Oortmanspos, northeast of Cape Town.
One of three Laubser still lifes on offer, A Black and White Cat Seated Amongst Flowers (estimate R800 000 - R1.2 million) is a late work representative of the painter's quest to portray the "spiritual shape" of objects. Yellow Bird (estimate R500 000 - R700 000), also a late-career work, confidently portrays the titular yellow bird integrated into an abstracted landscape of lines and shapes.
Rightly celebrated for her botanical still lifes, Irma Stern is represented on Strauss & Co's sale by Black Lilies (estimate R2 - R3 million), an unusual floral study from 1941 dominated by exotic black arum lilies. Produced in 1952, Madonna (estimate R500 000 - R700 000) is a bold expressionistic interpretation by Stern of a key icon of Catholicism.
An evergreen figure at auction, Hugo Naudé's early impressionist landscapes of Southern Africa remain highly sought after. Strauss & Co is offering a discerning selection of landscape and marine scenes of Hermanus, Hex River Valley, Port St Johns, Victoria Falls and the Brandwacht Mountains in the painter's native Worcester. The highlight, though, is a dazzling depiction of Venice (estimate R300 000 - R500 000) painted on Naudé's visit to the Italian city in 1913.
"One is reminded not only of how widely travelled was Naudé for an early South African artist, but how brilliantly varied was his tone, his subject, and his colour," says Strauss & Co specialist, Alastair Meredith.
Collectors formulate a mid-century canon
In recent years, there has been increasing competition among collectors to secure works by artists who represented the cultural derring-do and vitality of the post-war decades, notably Walter Battiss and Alexis Preller from Pretoria, Cecil Skotnes from Johannesburg, and Erik Laubscher and Peter Clarke from Cape Town. Interest in Preller has been especially pronounced, with Strauss & Co achieving a number of world records for this idiosyncratic painter in 2016.
Strauss & Co is delighted to be offering Preller's Homage to Hieronymus Bosch (estimate R3 - R5 million). Painted after a visit to Paris, where he acquired a rare book of Bosch's work, this unusual still life from 1948 shows Preller's predilection for creating symbolic still lives. Karel Nel, a noted Preller expert, says the composition creates "a heightened dreamlike strangeness that connects Preller's work obliquely to both the Italian metaphysical painters and to the Surrealist tradition".
Preller is also represented on the sale by two portraits, Christ Head (estimate R250 000 - R350 000), dated 1947, and the late-career oil from 1975, The Poet Prince (estimate R600 000 - R800 000). The shell is an important motif in Preller's stylized oeuvre and forms the central subject in Undeciphered, Computerised Message I (or II) (estimate R600 000 - R800 000), from 1975.
Walter Battiss, who initiated the first critical study of Preller in 1947, is also widely praised for his recombinant style. Painted in 1939 following his first trip abroad, The Early Men (estimate R200 000 - R300 000) is an important painting that captures Battiss's fledgling attempt to negotiate the twin influences of European painterly modernism and local rock art in his own work.
Cecil Skotnes produced abridged descriptions of human figures that bristled with energy, as is evident with his incised woodcarving Communication (estimate R700 000 - R900 000).
Paris-trained Erik Laubscher initially produced figurative work before settling on the Cape landscape as his enduring subject. Dating from 1950, Still Life with Iron and Fruit (estimate R1.2 - R1.6 million) is a confident genre work from Laubscher's brief French period. Evening Landscape (estimate R400 000 - R600 000), from 1966, is representative of Laubscher's accomplished mid-career period.
Peter Clarke shunned the mid-century turn to painterly abstraction. Birds in Flight (estimate R300 000 - R500 000), a stylised 1960 study of birds flying over a cubistic landscape, is one of a number of works by Clarke on offer depicting birds. Painted seven years later, Day Dreaming (estimate R300 000 - R500 000) presents five naked bathers on what could be Sandy Bay beach, which Clarke visited as petty apartheid made visiting the beach more menacing; this work brings pleasure and social history into quiet conversation.
Shifts in style and content in post-apartheid contemporary
Strauss & Co is thrilled to be offering two important early drawings by William Kentridge, a globally recognised artist whose work will form part of Zeitz MOCAA's launch exhibition.
Produced in 1989, Drawing for 'Johannesburg Second Greatest City After Paris' (estimate R2 - R3 million) is from Kentridge's first film from his celebrated cycle of stop-animation films collectively known as Drawings for Projection. It depicts Kentridge's artistic alter ego, Felix Teitlebaum, bathing in his own anxiety.
Drawing for 'Sobriety, Obesity, and Growing Old' (estimate R2.8 - R3.4 million), an important work from 1991, dramatizes a pivotal moment in Kentridge's fourth film, when the wife of fictional industrialist Soho Eckstein walks with her lover, Felix Teitlebaum, into a peopled landscape of change.
Anticipation surrounds the sale of Odysseus (estimate R1.8 - R2.2 million), a rare night scene by John Meyer, a contemporary master of the realist landscape. Strauss & Co is proud to present such a significant work by this highly collectible artist, on auction.
Zander Blom, Wim Botha and Lionel Smit, three established Cape Town artists, all originally from Pretoria, have found success exhibiting locally and abroad. Botha is represented by Untitled (Ecstasy Series III) (estimate R250 000 - R350 000), a 2011 sculpture made from hand-carved bibles. Also dated 2011 and produced at the start of his prolific solo career, Blom's Untitled [1.99] (estimate R100 000 - R120 000), is typical of his earliest experiments with gestural abstraction. Smit, who went to school with Blom, has gained a reputation at market for his figurative canvases, of which Untitled #3 (estimate R280 000 - R340 000) is a strong example.
Strauss & Co’s catalogue acknowledges the heightened interest by collectors in contemporary expression. There are fine examples of work by contemporary painters Wayne Barker (Zulu Lulu, estimate R30 000 - R50 000), Conrad Botes (Forensic Theatre: Empire of Error, diptych, estimate R60 000 - R80 000), Norman Catherine (Moonshine I & II, estimate R160 000 - R200 000 each), Penny Siopis (The Sheep in the Meadow, estimate R60 000 - R80 000) and Alfred Thoba (Jazz Club, estimate R20 000 - R30 000).
The catalogue also includes lauded mixed-media artists Esther Mahlangu (African Venus, estimate R30 000 - R50 000) and Billie Zangewa (Working Nights, estimate R30 000 - R50 000).