Strauss & Co’s upcoming auction
Reflecting on recent trends, Stephan Welz, Strauss & Co’s esteemed auctioneer, anticipates an impending and necessary shift of emphasis in the South African art market.
Irma Stern’s paintings of the human figure have been grabbing international headlines as a result of high prices reached at auction recently. The Cellist (R7 000 000 – 10 000 000), a remarkable painting that has been hidden from public view for over 40 years, is a life-size image of a young girl, her sensitively painted face a study in concentrated energy and her taut body draped in a golden gown that evokes the flow of music. The result is a strong cultural statement forging the sublime sounds of music with the dynamism and vigour of one of South Africa’s finest painters. Of Stern’s ever-popular still lifes, two are sure to attract keen bidders. Strauss & Co, who hold the record for the highest price ever paid at auction for a still life by Irma Stern (R13 368 000 in October 2009) are offering two good examples. A Still Life of a Blue Jar with Oranges and Limes (R2 500 000 – 3 500 000), painted in 1939, provides fascinating insights into Stern’s earlier style with strong overtones of her German Expressionist mentors. The later painting, Still Life of Blossoms (R2 000 000 – 3 000 000), which sold for just R60 500 in 1994, is a lovely interpretation of spring flowers in a Japanese vase.
J H Pierneef’s A Mountain Gorge with a River Running Through It (R4 000 000 – 6 000 000), painted in 1928, is a key work in the artist’s oeuvre, clearly revealing the influence of the Impressionists’ and Post-Impressionists’ colour palette and treatment of light effects on his early paintings, while Golden Gate (R5 000 000 – 7 000 000), an impressive example of his mature work, demonstrates how he forged a unique South African style that continues to capture the imagination of art lovers.
Pieter Wenning, a grossly underrated artist in the opinion of Stephan Welz, is exciting much interest amongst art collectors with At Claremont, CP having sold for R1 782 400 at Strauss & Co’s March 2011 sale, establishing a new record for the artist. Landscape Bishop’s Court (R500 000 – 800 000), painted when Wenning was in Cape Town in 1916 and Clouds, Pretoria (R600 000 – 9000 000), painted in 1918, will have great appeal to all who are interested in this artist’s work. ‘Whatever I am after is contained in an African shape’ wrote Alexis Preller in a letter dated 1948. This drive to capture the intrinsic qualities of Africa and to give life to its cultures is apparent in both Mapogga Women (R800 000–1 200 000) of 1952 and in Primavera, (R2 000 000 – 3 000 000), painted in 1956. Like its famous antecedent by Sandro Botticelli, Primavera extols the joys of spring. But unlike the Primavera in the South African National Gallery’s Permanent Collection, here Preller uniquely brings together a European figure that appears to celebrate and pay homage to Africa and an African figure that offers, in return, branches symbolic of regeneration and of peace.
Maurice van Essche’s Fishermen and Women I (R600 000 – 900 000), portraying heroic figures ennobled by their labour, is one of his most impressive paintings to come to auction in a while. George Pemba’s Portrait of a Young Man (R400 000 – 600 000) embodies the poignant humanity of his best paintings, making Pemba the celebrated artist that he is today.
Cecil Skotnes forged a unique style and iconography drawing both on his European training and Nordic roots as well as on local histories, legends and the great traditions of African art. Four Figures (on four panels) (R350 000 – 500 000) with its considered aesthetic formality, bolder colouring and clarity of form, is a major work demonstrating his technical mastery of an innovative medium ideally suited to his inimitable style and African-inspired subject matter.
Edoardo Villa’s steel Sentinel (R800 000–1 200 000) of 1966 combines mechanical forms with more rounded, anthropomorphic elements to create an heroic figure which resembles the powerful ancestral figures of traditional African art. A Seated Figure, Red Room (R150 000 – 200 000) was in the artist’s opinion, the key painting in Robert Hodgins’s last solo exhibition in 2008. Karel Nel’s Convergence, House of the Initiate (R350 000 – 500 000) draws on his knowledge of traditional cultures and modern art to evoke associations of nurturing environments and spaces for the meeting of ideas.
Says Stephan Welz, Strauss & Co’s Managing Director:
“The highlights are undoubtedly the important Irma Stern of the cellist, the two major Pierneefs and a good Van Wouw that was cast in the Nisini Foundry. Key works by Alexis Preller, Edoardo Villa and Cecil Skotnes should attract interest. The sale features good examples of Gregoire Boonzaier’s Cape urban scenes and a large number of works by Piet van Heerden and Alexander Rose-Innes. Artists rarely seen at auction include Eugene Labuschagne and Georgina Ormiston.”
In Welz’s opinion:
“The South African art market has in recent years ridden on the back of Irma Stern but one senses collectors are increasingly becoming aware of the good value presently to be had with artists who have somehow fallen out of the limelight due to all the attention and publicity being given to Stern. The market can certainly be described as being out of balance as far as prices are concerned and an adjustment is long overdue. Perhaps this sale will start reflecting this trend. Astute collectors will no doubt be looking keenly at several quality lots in this auction.”
Text: Emma Bedford, Senior Paintings Specialist, Strauss & Co