Press Office

Two centuries of artistic innovation compiled in Strauss & Co’s spring sale

  25 September 2019     Archived

A stirring Irma Stern portrait of a Watussi woman, painted on Stern’s second trip to the Belgian Congo in 1946, leads Strauss & Co’s impressive offering of historical paintings at its forthcoming spring sale in Cape Town. The widely exhibited painting, which is valued at R9 – 12 million, will go on sale at the Vineyard Hotel, Newlands, on 7 October, along with three portraits by Maggie Laubser and a diverse selection of works by J.H. Pierneef, among them five joyous paintings from a single-owner collection.

Says Bina Genovese, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director: “Irma Stern and J.H. Pierneef are bellwethers of the South African auction market. Since 2009, when we began trading, Strauss & Co has achieved R630 million in sales from just these two artists. This astonishing figure bears testimony to the broad base of collectors who have found deep pleasure in owning works by these important South African moderns. We are especially honoured to be offering the historically important Stern portrait, which was exhibited in London and Paris shortly after it was made.”


Started on the shores of Lake Kivu, during Stern’s second visit to the Great Lakes region, the portrait was completed in 1946 at the artist’s studio in Cape Town. Stern cut short her trip after suffering a bout of malaria, which, together with the “frightful” light, hindered her progress. Unlike Stern’s previous oils of Watussi nobility in ceremonial regalia, painted during an earlier visit in 1942, her painting A Watussi Woman with Mountains depicts a confident young woman attired in traditional Rwandan dress.


Stern’s vibrant portrait was exhibited twice in Europe. The first occasion was in Paris on her solo show Irma Stern: Peintures D’Afrique at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts. Located on the fashionable rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, three blocks from the Champs-Élysées, the gallery was run by Georges Wildenstein, the second in a long line of prominent Jewish art dealers. According to the art historian Marion Arnold, Stern’s Paris exhibition was a roaring success, bringing her “widespread interest and eulogistic comment in French art publications”. Says Art Specialist Matthew Partridge: “the impeccable provenance of Watussi Woman with Mountains which includes notable British scientist and philosopher Dr R.L. Worrall and Count Natale Labia, amongst others, attests to Sterns universal desirability, and provides unique biographical dimension to the painting.


The Pierneef offering on Strauss & Co’s October sale also attest to the power of travel in energising artistic practice. In 1926, Pierneef returned to Pretoria from an extensive European tour with plans to “shock” art connoisseurs with his new style. Part of a consignment of five paintings from the Collection of a Lady, Gold & Green, Rooiplaat, N.T. (estimate R500 000 – 700 000) is a neo-impressionist wonder that depicts the artist’s beloved Rooiplaat with short, wriggling strokes of pure colour, notably mauve, teal, pink and yellow.


This particular consignment also includes two early oils of willow trees, the dominant motif of Pierneef’s early career, as well as the dazzling and self-assured Tall Trees in a Mountain Landscape (R500 000 – 700 000). Painted in 1925, the latter work dates from Pierneef’s marriage to May Schoep following an unhappy earlier marriage and is a remarkable example of work from this energized period of renewal.


Other notable Pierneef lots on this sale include the majestic 1943 work Near Thabazimbi, Tvl (estimate R2 – 3 million), which features a mountain landscape dominated in the foreground by geometrically stylised camelthorn trees. The work is an expression of Pierneef at his most iconic. Pierneef’s attentiveness to the flora and geology of South Africa was cultivated during camping trips with his godfather, Anton van Wouw. Produced in 1918, At Pienaars River (Rooiplaat), Transvaal, Bushveld (estimate R700 000 – 1 000 000) records the luxurious simplicity the two artists were accustomed to on their expeditions. 


A contemporary of Stern and Pierneef, Maggie Laubser is represented by two early portraits of female sitters. Painted in 1922, Portrait of a Young Girl (estimate R500 000 – 700 000) reveals Laubser’s technical prowess working in a more academic style, while Weemoed (Melancholy), (estimate R 800 000 – 1 200 000) exhibits a more expressionist approach, notably in her use of colour work. The latter work was acquired in 1931 and has remained in the same private collection ever since.


Laubser ranks with Stern, Pierneef, Alexis Preller and William Kentridge among the top five artists sold by Strauss & Co. All five are represented on the October sale.


The top Preller lot is Two Urn Heads (estimate R400 000 – 600 000), an undated work that corresponds with works he produced after his return to South Africa in 1943 from Italy where he had been a prisoner of war. An inveterate traveller, in 1948 Preller spent six months on Mahé in the Seychelles. Coral Fish (estimate R180 000 – 240 000) is a small, jewel-like painting recalling this important sojourn.


William Kentridge is South Africa’s most acclaimed living artist. Currently the subject of two survey exhibitions in Cape Town, at Zeitz MOCAA and Norval Foundation, Strauss & Co is delighted to offer The Artist’s Garden (estimate R700 000 – 900 000), an unexpectedly intimate charcoal drawing by this contemporary master.


Other contemporary artists featured in the October sale include Wim Botha, Georgina Gratrix, Esther Mahlangu, Walter Meyer, Sam Nhlengethwa and Lionel Smit. Painted in 2011, Gratrix’s Hässlichen Frau (estimate R100 000 – 150 000) is a portrait of the artist’s late grandmother and claims an impressive exhibition history. Meyer’s Neo-expressionist Composition (estimate R250 000 – 350 000) dates from 1988 and records his enthusiastic embrace of German-influenced neo-expressionism.


The premier evening session will commence with the sale of five works from the estate of Namibian art collectors, Peter and Regina Strack. The consignment includes two oils from 1944 by celebrated landscape painter Adolph Jentsch, Sunset Landscape with Trees and Namibian Landscape (each valued at R500 000 – 700 000), as well as works by the equally revered Fritz Krampe.


“German-born Peter Strack immigrated to Namibia in 1950 and began honing his skills as an artist and collector under the tutelage of Adolph Jentsch,” says Senior Art Specialist Kirsty Colledge.“His impeccable taste is recognised by collectors. In October 2018, at a Strauss & Co sale, we sold all 20 lots from the Strack Collection and established a new world record price for Fritz Krampe.”


Other prominent historical artists who will go under the hammer include Walter Battiss, Peter Clarke, Robert Hodgins, Wolf Kibel, Sydney Kumalo, Judith Mason, Gerard Sekoto and Maurice van Essche. Kumalo’s bronze figure, Matriarch (estimate R500 000 – 700 000), was cast at the Vignali Foundry in Pretoria in 1984 and is part of an edition of five works. Mason’s arresting oil, Roar (R200 000 – 300 000), depicts a lion’s rearing head, multiplied in an arched motion. Battiss aficionados will delight in learning that Kevin Atkinson’s abstract painting Waves and Squares (estimate R120 000 – 160 000) was originally owned by King Ferd of Fook Island.


Since 2016, Strauss & Co has every year collaborated with the Association of Visual Arts (AVA) on a limited-edition portfolio of prints. The 2019 portfolio, A Cut Above (estimate R30 000 – 50 000), features lino prints by seven artists, notably Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi, Claudette Schreuders and Khehla Chepape Makgato. Proceeds from the sale of this lot will benefit the AVA ArtReach fund.


The October sale also includes a lot by abstract painter Marlene von Dürckheim and proceeds from its sale will directly benefit the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO). Active since 1914, the CPO has in recent years illustrated its printed concert programmes, concert cards and newsletters with works by Von Dürckheim, Nel Erasmus and Jean Welz. Strauss & Co will waive its fees for the sale of the Von Dürckheim lot.


A global leader for South African art, in March 2019 Strauss & Co became the first South African auction house to achieve over R100 million in sales at a single auction. Three important works by Irma Stern formed part of the offering at this sale. Stern’s highly important A Watussi Woman with Mountains goes under the hammer on 7 October at the Vineyard Hotel in Newlands, Cape Town.


Strauss & Co will also be hosting an extensive programme of public talks and social events in the lead-up to the sale.

Press enquiries: Bina Genovese,  | 083 680 9944

2019 Press Archive

 Return to Press Office