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City story: Strauss & Co sale explores how Johannesburg defined a nation’s art history

  7 November 2018     Archived

Strauss & Co is delighted to announce details of its forthcoming live sale in Johannesburg on 12 November. The sale, which has a combined pre-sale estimate of R80 million, is a celebration of Johannesburg and its many talented artists, curators and collectors. The sale commemorates the city’s important role in shaping South African art history.

Highlights from the sale include a dedicated session inspired by curator Steven Sack’s landmark 1988 exhibition, The Neglected Tradition, held at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, a single-owner collection of five remarkable paintings by Maggie Laubser, and a magnificent portrait of one of Johannesburg’s most faithful chroniclers, photographer David Goldblatt.

Goldblatt, who passed away in June, is a striking presence in KwaZulu-Natal painter Heather Gourlay-Conyngham’s portrait David (estimate R80 000 – 120 000), which depicts the award-winning photographer pausing from evaluating a photographic print.

A photograph from Goldblatt’s highly regarded essay on Boksburg, first published in 1982, precedes the sale of Gourlay-Conyngham’s portrait. Taken on a Saturday morning in April 1979 at the corner of Commissioner and Trichardts streets in Boksburg, this well-known street photograph (estimate R70 000 – 100 000) miniaturises Goldblatt’s affection for the ordinary people and places of Johannesburg.

“Johannesburg is seldom a beautiful city; it has its rare moments,” said Goldblatt in 2002. “I can’t honestly say that I love it. However, I miss it when I am away, and when I am in it I rejoice.”

Maggie Laubser’s biography is strongly tied to the Cape, but Johannesburg collectors have long esteemed her paintings of Swartland farm labourers. The forthcoming sale includes five Laubser paintings assembled by a Johannesburg collector. The lots include Leentjie (estimate R1 – 2 million), an exquisite portrait of young domestic worker from Laubser’s family farm, and Harvesters in Wheatfield (estimate R2 – 3 million), a vivid description of two farm hands, one cutting ripe yellow ears of wheat with a sickle.

“Harvesting was one of Laubser’s favourite subjects,” notes art historian Elza Miles of this work. “Laubser places emphasis on the worth of the sweat of the farm worker’s brow. These harvest scenes belong to the ‘sickle and scythe’ period in the history of South African agriculture.”

Initially mistreated by the press following her return from Berlin in 1924, Laubser’s participation in a 1936 exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery – alongside Irma Stern and Wolf Kibel, among others – marked the “first significant demonstration of critical recognition” for her work, according to art historian Esmé Berman.

Johannesburg, and in particular its century-old municipal gallery, has been the site of many important exhibitions. They include Steven Sack’s seminal exhibition, The Neglected Tradition: Towards a New History of South African Art (1930-1988), which highlighted a largely neglected canon of black artists.

Strauss & Co is thrilled to announce the inclusion of a dedicated session inspired by this watershed exhibition. Titled Unsung History, the session draws together a non-racial selection of work by earlier pioneers working in the tumultuous period between 1910 and 1994.

Some of the artists in this session are now well known domestically, but most remain unheralded in global histories. Unsung History includes works by early pioneers like Ernest Mancoba, John Koenakeefe Mohl and Moses Tladi, as well as important later twentieth century artists Jackson Hlungwani, Noria Mabasa, Cyprian Shilakoe, Winston Saoli and Lucas Sithole.

Standout offerings from the Unsung History session include:

• Ephraim Ngatane’s entrancing 1971 oil on board, Abstract (estimate R150 000 – 200 000)
• Lucas Sithole’s tall bronze sculpture, Mother and Child (estimate R300 000 – 500 000)
• Cecil Skotnes’s idiosyncratic portrait of one of South African pre-eminent historical figures, Shaka (estimate R700 000 – 1 million)
• Peter Clarke’s 1962 mixed-media painting describing a woman’s burden, The Watercarrier, Windermere (estimate R500 000 – 700 000)
• Gerard Sekoto’s Women and Baby in the Street (estimate R800 000 – 1.2 million), which was painted shortly after his return to Pretoria in 1947 at the start of his peak-period.

Sekoto, who is also represented on this sale by two cobalt-blue portraits of a man and woman (estimate for each R700 000 – 1 million), lived in Johannesburg from 1939 to 1942. Despite enduring constant racial prejudice, his sojourn in Sophiatown represented one Sekoto’s most prolific periods.

Sekoto later told his biographer Chabani Manganyi that his time in Johannesburg was liberating: “… for the first time in my life I enjoyed the freedom to see the works of other white artists and to observe their technique.”

Strauss & Co is excited at the prospect of sharing its consignments, which will be on view at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg from Friday 9 November until the start of the sale on Monday, 12 November. Strauss & Co is a global leader for South African art and has sold nine of the ten most expensive paintings ever auctioned in South Africa.

Press enquiries: Bina Genovese,

Important South African and International Art
Monday 12 November 2018
2 pm Session One
6 pm Session Two
8 pm Session Three

The Wanderers Club
Ballroom, 21 North Street, Illovo, Johannesburg
GPS Co-ordinates: Latitude: S26 08.123 – Longitude: E28 03.454

Friday 9 to Sunday 11 November from 10 am to 5 pm

Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 November at 11 am

Enquiries and Catalogues
Office: +27 (0) 11 728 8246 Fax: +27 (0) 11 728 8247

Contact Numbers during viewing and auction
Mobile +27 (0) 79 407 5140 and +27 (0) 79 367 0637
Fax: +27 (0) 11 728 8247

About Strauss & Co:
Strauss & Co is South Africa’s leading auction house and the global leader for South African art. It was founded in 2009 by a consortium of business leaders and industry experts, including the late auctioneer Stephan Welz, Elisabeth Bradley, Dr Conrad Strauss, Vanessa Phillips, Ann Palmer and Bina Genovese. Frank Kilbourn, a respected entrepreneur, philanthropist and art collector, was appointed Executive Chairperson in 2016. Strauss & Co has the highest market share amongst the four leading auction houses specialising in South African art globally. In 2017 the company’s turnover totalled R329 million – a sum unrivalled by any auction house dealing in South African art in a single year. Strauss & Co annually holds five live auctions, three in Cape Town and two in Johannesburg, and up to eight online-only auctions. Strauss & Co was awarded the prestigious Chairman’s Premier Award at the 2018 annual BASA Awards for its sustained and extraordinary commitment to the arts in South Africa.

Strauss & Co Board of Directors: Frank Kilbourn (Executive Chairperson), Vanessa Phillips and Bina Genovese (Joint MDs), Elisabeth Bradley, Dr Conrad Strauss, Caro Wiese, Carmen Welz, Susie Goodman

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