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Peter Haden, a vital force in 1960s Johannesburg, remembered at Strauss & Co

  10 July 2019     Archived

Strauss & Co is delighted to announce the first exhibition at its new Houghton space, a presentation of historical bronzes by sculptor Peter Haden. Organised by Gavin Watkins, in association with Strauss & Co, and composed of various figurative and abstract pieces, the exhibition Peter Haden: Almost Forgotten offers a penetrating insight into this little-known modernist sculptor.

“Given the evident quality and uniqueness of Peter Haden’s sculptures, it is disappointing that he has had so little recognition in South Africa,” says Gavin Watkins, a collector and noted authority on 1960s and 70s South African sculpture. “This can probably be explained by the relatively short time he was active as an artist in his country of birth.”


Born in Johannesburg in 1939, Haden began his art practice as a painter, but switched decisively to sculpture and studied in the studio of multi-disciplinary artist Ernest Ullmann. He later establishing a private art school, The Academy, in Craighall where he mentored future talents like Wopko Jensma, Julian Motau, Wendy Vincent and Stanley Nkosi.


In 1965 Haden presented his first solo exhibition at the Lidchi Gallery in Johannesburg, showing both paintings and sculpture. The dealer Egon Guenther later took an active interest in mentoring the young artist and promoting his work. Haden held his first exhibition at Guenther’s legendary Linksfield gallery in 1968, showing alongside Hannes Harrs, Sydney Kumalo, Ezrom Legae and Edoardo Villa.


This show marked the start of Haden’s golden period, which lasted until 1971 when he left South Africa for Europe. During this brief but productive period Haden conceived 40 sculptures, six of which were withdrawn prior to production, and from which a total of 182 bronze casts were made. Partly figurative, his work from this period is characterized by its elongated forms and often modest scale.


Haden’s work was well received by critics and collectors when he first exhibited. The Star’s art critic praised his “intuitive sensitivity” and the “willowy grace and rhythm” of his sculptures shown on a two-man show with Cecil Skotnes at Guenther’s gallery in 1969. Haden’s collectors included the prominent New Yorkers Ruth and Jerome Siegel, and the famous author Irving Stone.


Haden continued to work and exhibit after settling in Switzerland, showing in Geneva, Paris and London. His lack of visibility in South Africa can partly be ascribed to the fact that Guenther stopped serving as his agent in 1976. The artist died in 1997 in Geneva. Since 1990, a total of only 14 of Haden’s sculptures have been sold on auction in South Africa – two by Strauss & Co.


“Drawn from a number of private collections, the exhibition Peter Haden: Almost Forgotten is a wonderful opportunity for the art public in Johannesburg to become acquainted with this vital figure in our city’s art history,” says Susie Goodman, a director at Strauss & Co. “The exhibition forms part of Strauss & Co’s busy winter programme of events, which includes our participation in the RMB Turbine Art Fair (11–14 July) where we have produced a marvellous exhibition devoted to two of Peter Haden’s contemporaries, painters Douglas Portway and Louis Maqhubela, and our three-day series of Masterclasses (29–31 July).”


Johannesburg exhibition

Peter Haden: Almost Forgotten opens to the public on Tuesday 8 July at Strauss & Co’s offices at 89 Central Street, Houghton.

Strauss & Co will be hosting a special function on Tuesday 16 July at 6pm. Gavin Watkins, who is based in Sydney, and Georgina Haden, the artist’s daughter, will be present and deliver welcome speeches. To confirm your attendance at this event please email or phone 011 728 8246. The exhibition runs from 8 to 29 July.


Cape Town exhibition

After its run in Johannesburg, Peter Haden: Almost Forgotten will be on view at the historic manor house of Welgemeend for the duration of Art Month at Welgemeend, 30 July to 31 August.

2019 Press Archive

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