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Strauss & Co's upcoming Johannesburg sale studded with museum-calibre works

  18 May 2018     Archived

A museum-quality artwork by William Kentridge, a gripping 1950 self-portrait by Alexis Preller and an intimate post-impressionist painting by Edouard Vuillard are among the outstanding lots at Strauss & Co's forthcoming live sale in Johannesburg, to be held at the Wanderers Club on 4 June.

Captions left to right

Lot 307

William Kentridge
Deep Pool, from the series Colonial Landscape
signed and dated '96
charcoal and pastel on paper
120 by 160cm
R 3 000 000 - 4 000 000

Lot 156

Edouard Vuillard
FRENCH 1868-1940
Goûter en plein air (Tea in the open air)
oil on board
49,5 by 39cm
R 1 000 000 - 1 500 000

Lot 123

Alexis Preller
Head (Adapting Itself to the Unendurable)
signed and dated '49
oil on canvas laid down on board
44 by 40cm
R 3 000 000 - 4 000 000

The sale's top ten lots include four works by Preller, revered as one of the most important post-war South African painters by collectors, as well as important pieces by Walter Battiss, JH Pierneef and Vladimir Tretchikoff. The top ten lots carry a combined high estimate of R33.6 million.

William Kentridge's large charcoal and pastel drawing Deep Pool (estimate R3 - 4 million) was produced in 1996 and forms part of a suite of polished drawings made in 1995 and 1996 titled Colonial Landscapes. The series drew inspiration from nineteenth-century colonial drawings of Africa and marked a shift away from Kentridge's earlier anti-epic depictions of Johannesburg's peripheral mining landscapes. Deep Pool was included in Kentridge's first career survey in the United States in 2001.

Great excitement surrounds Alexis Preller's undated intaglio painting titled Poseidon (estimate R3 - R5 million), a unique depiction of the mythical Greek god of the sea in the artist's enigmatic late-career style. The work has never been exhibited; it was a gift from the artist to close friends, and has remained in the same family collection since it left the artist's studio in 1970.

Strauss & Co is delighted to offer two works by Edouard Vuillard, who along with Pierre Bonnard achieved prominence as a member of the vanguard Nabis group of post-impressionist French painters. Best-known for his small easel paintings, Goûter en plein air (estimate R1 - 1.5 million) portrays a family seated at an outdoor table, its abstracted style inspired by Paul Gauguin's synthetism. La Lecture sous les arbres à Amfreville (estimate R500 000 - 700 000) demonstrates this master's flourishes with pastel.

The two Vuillard lots form part of an impressive selection of international works, including British painter Sir William Nicholson's Alcázar Estrade, Sevilla from 1933 (estimate R500 000-700 000). There a number of editions by leading contemporary artists on offer, notably by Peter Blake, Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons, who is married to South African artist Justine Wheeler. Balloon Dog in Blue (estimate R180 000 - 240 000) is a charming chrome-glazed porcelain edition of Koons's well-known steel sculptures in reflective steel.

The evening session of Strauss & Co's forthcoming Johannesburg auction will mark the climax of this three-part sale. A number of important South African artists are represented in this session, among them Walter Battiss, Peter Clarke, Robert Hodgins, Sydney Kumalo, Maggie Laubser, Erik Laubscher, Freida Lock, JH Pierneef, Gerard Sekoto and Irma Stern - and, of course, Alexis Preller.

Alongside Poseidon, the works on offer include Consider the Lizard (estimate R3 - 4 million), a symbolic study of a male figure painted in 1955 and shown at the 28th Venice Biennale a year later. Contrapuntal Figures II (estimate R2 - 3 million) is a dazzling 1964 canvas in which Preller skilfully integrates figures into an abstract composition dominated by delicate lilacs, warm yellows and cobalt blues.

Self-portrait as an Old Man (estimate R3 - 5 million) was painted 25 years before Preller's death in 1975 and uncannily captures the expression and look of this esteemed painter's older self. Its acuity is matched by its rarity: Preller only produced three self-portraits throughout his career.

The evening session includes a number of works by J.H. Pierneef, notably a 1955 landscape portraying Shingwedzi in the northern part of the Kruger National Park (estimate R1.5 - 2.5 million). Collectors will relish in Homestead (estimate R500 000 - 700 000), a rare early casein painting from 1920, and Mountain Landscape with Clouds (estimate R1.2 - 1.6 million), a mysterious rural landscape with a majestic, sun-soaked peak.

Charting a wholly different direction in painting, but no less sought after at auction, is Vladimir Tretchikoff's portrait of a traditional healer holding a green snake, which is expected to sell for between R2 - 3 million.

A new survey exhibition dedicated to Sydney Kumalo at the Norval Foundation in Cape Town casts an invaluable spotlight on this important sculptor, and may help push bidding for Figure on a Bull past the high estimate of R600 000.

Other noteworthy lots included in this sale are Erik Laubscher's vivid red Still Life with Bowl and Vessel (estimate R250 000 - 350 000), Gerard Sekoto's undated study Ndebele Women (estimate R600 000 - 800 000), Irma Stern's seductive 1936 gouache Near Amanzimtoti (estimate R800 000 - 1.2 million) and Robert Hodgins's abstracted portrayal of a rural feast, Fête Champêtre (estimate R800 000 - 1 million), complete with romping bathers executed in fleshy pinks and reds.

There is a strong focus on contemporary art in Strauss & Co's Johannesburg sale. Alongside Kentridge, whose Sleeper Red (estimate R800 000 - 1 million) showcases his superlative printmaking technique, this sale includes works by Conrad Botes, Norman Catherine, Dan Halter, Clive van den Berg and Sandile Zulu.

Strauss & Co has achieved world record prices for a number of contemporary artists, including Wim Botha, Robert Hodgins, Sam Nhlengethwa, Penny Siopis, Alfred Thoba and Ed Young - all of whom are represented on the forthcoming sale.

In 2016, Strauss & Co sold Nhlengethwa's Abstract in Orange & Blue from 1991 for R227 360, a world record for the artist. The forthcoming Johannesburg sale includes another striking abstract composition from Nhlengethwa's important Thupelo workshop period, Image IV (estimate R200 000 - 300 000).

The Johannesburg sale includes a special focus on abstract art in South Africa. Abstraction was the dominant artistic thrust in South Africa's post-war years, up until the late 1970s. Notwithstanding a revival of interest in abstraction, fine historical examples remain grossly undervalued - collectors with an eye for opportunity will be richly rewarded for their anticipation.

Standout offerings from Strauss & Co's abstraction focus include Trevor Coleman's acrylic and tape on shaped canvas work Systematic Composition (estimate R60 000 - 80 000) and Douglas Portway's London 62 (estimate R120 000 - 160 000), a post-emigration oil work dominated by remnants of his African colour scheme.

Notable historical works include Cecily Sash's Diagonal Drama from 1984 (estimate R70 000 - 100 000), a pair of matching lithographs from 1989 (by pioneering abstract painter Ernest Mancoba (estimate R30 000 - 40 000 each), and Eugene Labuschagne's Formal Synthesis (estimate R20 000 - 30 000), which was exhibited on the 1959 São Paulo Biennial.

Newer abstract lots include Durant Sihlali's fine watercolour on handmade paper Abstract Composition (R20 000 - 30 000), David Koloane's Dwelling (estimate R60 000 - 90 000), noteworthy for the artist's bold use of colour and cellular approach to form, and Kagiso Patrick Mautloa's exuberant diptych Tribute to Abstraction (estimate R60 000 - 90 000).

Strauss & Co is hosting an engaging programme of social events in the lead up to live sale at the Wanderers Club. Works on offer will be on preview from Friday 1 June to Sunday 3 June 2017. There will be walkabouts and lectures on Saturday 2 June and Sunday 3 June.

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Bina Genovese
083 680 9944

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