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Strauss & Co brings work from four peerless collections to market

  13 March 2019     Archived

Strauss & Co’s forthcoming live auction in Cape Town includes three Zanzibar-period paintings by Irma Stern, a major work by Alexis Preller, museum-quality Cape furniture and a selection of fine Chinese and Japanese pieces. Originating from four highly important single-owner collections, the works will be offered to the public at the Vineyard Hotel on Monday, 18 March 2019.

“Irma Stern has been a leading light of the auction market for many decades, and remains unrivalled as the most valuable South African artist at auction,” said Strauss & Co chairperson, Frank Kilbourn. “Since the company’s first live sale in March 2009, Strauss & Co has sold 164 Sterns, achieving combined sales of R360 million. Our forthcoming Cape Town sale includes eleven lots by the artist, among them three exceptional portraits from her acclaimed Zanzibar period (1939–45). The portraits have not traded hands in more than five decades. Strauss & Co is honoured to be offering these important works.”

Acquired in 1972 by collectors Louis and Mavis Shill from Die Kunskamer, a noted Cape Town gallery, Meditation, Zanzibar (estimate R15 – 20 million) depicts a young woman swathed in lustrous colours. The portrait is dated 1939, the year of Stern’s first visit to the Sultanate of Zanzibar. (The late Louis Shill was a well-known South African businessman and politician – he was one of the founders of Liberty Life,
founder and chief executive of Sage Fund which introduced the concept of unit trusts in South Africa and was minister for national housing and public works, until May 1994 in addition to being an avid art collector).

Portrait of an Arab
(estimate R12 – 16 million) was produced during Stern’s second visit to Zanzibar in 1945 and depicts an Omani nobleman from the Sultanate’s royal court. The work was acquired directly from the artist by collector the late Sol Munitz and is unrecorded in the literature around Stern. Also from the Munitz Collection comes The Mauve Sari (estimate R13 – 17 million), painted in 1946 depicting a young Bahoran woman in three-quarter pose wearing a lilac sari with gold detailing.

From the Shill Collection, Alexis Preller’s Collected Images (estimate R7 – 9 million) is a seminal piece by this highly regarded artist. Painted in 1952 and subtitled “Orchestration of Themes”, the work presents a cabinet with 18 compartments furnished with Prelleresque vignettes or objects. The work is illustrated on the cover of Esmé Berman and Karel Nel’s authoritative 2009 monograph of the same name. Preller ranks third as the most valuable artist at auction at Strauss & Co, having achieved R145 million from 128 lots sold.

The Munitz and Shill collections are distinguished by their focus on mid-century South African art, a time of painterly accomplishment and sculptural innovation. Notable works from the Munitz Collection include Gerard Sekoto’s Saturday Afternoon (estimate R3 – 4 million), a winsome street scene from his acclaimed Eastwood-period (1945–47), an untitled abstract by Jean Welz, 1953 (estimate R70 000 – 90 000), and magical study of youthful reverie by Walter Battiss, Boy with Butterflies (estimate R100 000 – 150 000). The Shill consignment also includes Sydney Kumalo’s Bull (estimate R250 000 – 350 000), a figurative bronze with verdigris patina numbered VII/X, and Gwelo Goodman’s Interior Looking Out, Stellenrust (estimate R150 – 200 000), an impressionist study of a well-known Stellenbosch wine farm. The latter work previously formed part of the important Rogoff Collection auctioned in 1984.

Strauss & Co’s sale includes five works by Gwelo Goodman, a pioneering figure in the post-Union formulation of a South African landscape tradition. Of note are his lavish landscape, Full of Flushed Heat, Tulbagh (estimate R350 000 – 500 000), and of historical interest, The Old Town House, Cape Town (estimate R300 000 – 500 000). 
A contemporary of Goodman, J.H. Pierneef is South Africa’s preeminent landscape painter at auction, achieving R185 million for Strauss & Co from 300 lots sold. The forthcoming sale features eight lots, including two diminutive 11 by 13,5cm casein works – of Golden Gate and rural Namibia – acquired from the artist by the current owner’s parents. Painted in 1926, Extensive Landscape is an unusual pastel-coloured study of a farming landscape.

Other notable paintings on offer include Erik Laubscher’s Still Life with Jug, Bowl and Fruit (estimate R600 000 – 800 000) and Cecil Skotnes’s Kitchen Still Life (estimate R450 000 – 600 000). Collectors in search of value might consider: two gouaches by expressionist painter Gladys Mgudlandlu, Freida Lock’s Still Life with Pawpaw (estimate R60 000 – 80 0000), and four lots by Judith Mason, including the phantasmagorical Mary Magdalene – Harlot (estimate 80 000 – 120 000).

Strauss & Co’s much-anticipated sale, also features an impeccable selection of Chinese and Japanese ceramics and works art, English silver and Cape furniture from two distinguished single-owner collections, amongst others.
Dr John Strong and Mrs Mary Strong collected widely. Strauss & Co is privileged to present a selection of their Chinese ceramics, carved jade pieces and snuff bottles, as well as Japanese earthenware and carved netsuke, together with various pieces of English silver. John Strong was well acquainted with key London dealerships, but also patronised Gallery Medici in Kalk Bay, where he acquired many of his Japanese pieces.

Strong was particularly fond of Japanese netsuke. Standout pieces from the 41 lots on offer include a rare ivory miniature from the late eighteenth century depicting a bearded Dutchman (estimate R9 000 – 12 0000) and another portraying the Japanese storm gods, Raiden and Futen (estimate R12 000 – 15 000). Dr Johan Bolt started collecting Cape furniture in the early 1980s, initially focussing on yellowwood and stinkwood pieces. His collection of Cape furniture, Cape brass and copperware is distinguished by its superior provenance. A harlequin set of six Cape neoclassical stinkwood side chairs (estimate R120 000 – 150 000) includes pieces originally acquired at the 1998 sale of important Cape furniture from the collection of Dr Gavin Watkins. Two lots from the Bolt Collection, including an important south-western Cape neoclassical settee made from of stinkwood and yellowwood (estimate R200 000 – 300 000), were exhibited at the Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag, Holland, in 2002.

The 400 lots of decorative arts include various examples of Chinese export blue-and-white dishes dating form the Qing Dynasty, as well as furniture owned by the late artist Cynthia Villet-Gardner, featuring a Gerrit Rietveld red and blue Model 763 armchair (estimate R20 000 – 30 000) and an Eames chair (estimate R20 000 – 30 000). “This is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated sales of the decade,” said Bina Genovese, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director.

“Not since the R21-million sale of Irma Stern’s painting Two Arabs in 2011 by Strauss & Co has there been this much excitement around a single auction in South Africa. The sale features key works by market-leading artists consigned by outstanding private collections. Similarly, our decorative arts offering emanates from pinnacle collections. Each of these single-owner collections is the embodiment of passion and connoisseurship. Strauss & Co is delighted to be an intermediary in identifying new custodians.”

The auction preview will be at the Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town from 15 to 17 March, between 10am and 5pm. The preview includes an educational and social programme. The sale will held on Monday, 18 March at the same venue. For further details visit

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