12 November 2019
Celebrated contemporary artist William Kentridge affirmed his place among auction stalwarts JH Pierneef and Alexis Preller at Strauss & Co’s R37-million summer sale in Johannesburg. The packed evening sale, which started just before the welcome arrival of overdue rain, saw the auction house establish four new world records for artists, notably Ezrom Legae, whose African Goat, cast at the Vignali Foundry in Pretoria in 1990, sold for R1.7 million.
The top-selling lot was Kentridge’s Iris, a large work on paper from 1991 depicting this purple ornamental flower beloved of artists, which sold for R4.21 million. Pierneef, an artist who has frequently topped Strauss & Co auctions, once again proved his mettle when Marone, District Lydenburg, a 1948 bushveld landscape featuring a pair of pawpaw trees, sold for R2.5 million.
Preller posted the third-best result at Strauss & Co’s vibrant sale when his Mapogga Wedding, a nearly contemporaneous work to Pierneef, sold for R2.5 million. Part of series of works by Preller exploring Ndebele culture, design and ritual, the sale also included the more stylised work, Three (Mapogga) Women, which sold for R853 500.
These works by Kentridge, Legae, Pierneef and Preller formed part of diverse consignment of drawings, paintings and sculptures representing over a century of South African art and achievement that was elegantly displayed at Strauss & Co’s new exhibition and auction venue in Houghton.
“We’re delighted to have a home of our own,” said Frank Kilbourn, Strauss & Co’s executive chairperson, during a short welcome speech at the start of the sale, which commenced with Kentridge’s print Bird Catcher, sold for R227 600. Speaking after the sale, Kilbourn elaborated on the importance of the change of address for the Johannesburg sale.
“Our new space is an important asset,” said Kilbourn. “It allows Strauss & Co to showcase important work in the best possible way for longer than previously was the case, and also in ways that let us to tell important stories. This sale featured a wonderfully curated selection of work by South African artists influenced by Paris. I am delighted with the fantastic result for Legae’s bronze sculpture and the three new world records for artists in the Paris showcase. Overall, the turnover is a credible result given South Africa’s challenging economic situation.”
The Paris showcase highlighted by Kilbourn featured a broad selection of artists who came under the influence of Paris throughout the twentieth century. Strauss & Co established new world records for Enslin du Plessis, Kevin Roberts and Diane Victor.
Competitive bidding for Roberts’s 2005 oil on wood panel, In the Shadow Where the Birds Walked, saw the work eventually sell for R796 000, a six-fold improvement over the high estimate. Victor’s matchless skill as a draughtsperson was clearly evidenced in her 2001 charcoal drawing, There’s Fire in the Thatch, which sold for R341 400. Both Roberts and Victor are past winners of the Absa L’Atelier art competition, which includes an extended stay in Paris as part of the award.
The auction-room interest in Ezrom Legae’s African Goat, which culminated in a new world record for the artist, extended to other important mid-twentieth century modernists. A vibrant Op Art gem by fellow Amadlozi Group member Cecily Sash, Orange Minoan, previously owned by the writer and dealer Adam Levin, sold for R147 940.
A consistent performer at auction, Peter Clarke’s accomplished gouache, The Red Road, painted in 1958, sold for R796 600, bettering the high estimate. Collector interest in George Pemba was especially pronounced. A downcast study of a lone sitter painted in 1975, Portrait of an Elderly Man Holding a Hat, drew considerable interest and finally sold for R477 960. Pemba’s upbeat oil from 1992, The Dance, also bettered estimates and sold for R318 640.
Although dominated by painting, the sculptural offering saw strong results posted. Anton van Wouw’s The Bushman Hunter, a benchmark example of early South African sculpture, achieved R1.25 million. William Kentridge’s Horse, a schematic portrayal of a mount produced by Bronze Age in Cape Town, fetched just over R1 million.
Susie Goodman, an executive director at Strauss & Co, expressed her satisfaction with the sale. “New buyers are the lifeblood of our business and I was pleased to see some of our strong Pierneef consignment go to first-time buyers of this irrefutable master of the South African landscape. The sale capped a busy programme of events marketing our sale in our new space. The turnout at our talks and lectures spoke to a genuine appetite among collectors for professional insight into our art history. I was delighted that we were able to translate all this pre-sale enthusiasm into sales for our clients.”
Strauss & Co’s next sale is an online sale, which commences on Monday, 18 November. The next live sale is The Contents of Harcroft House sale in Cape Town on 18 November, followed by the Contemporary Art sale, which will be held in February 2020 in Cape Town.