Coveted SA art on auction

Coveted SA art on auction

Strauss & Co, the world’s foremost auction house for South African art, will hold a sale at the Wanderers Club, Johannesburg on May 20.

This auction follows the company’s recording-breaking R106-million sale in Cape Town and will offer important artworks by Alexis Preller, Irma Stern and Anton van Wouw, as well as contemporary artists William Kentridge, Penny Siopis and Athi-Patra Ruga.

Strauss & Co support further education in art, having established a bursary for postgraduate study in 2018.

Works by Van Wouw represent cutting-edge new research. A recent scholarship by Gerhard de Kamper, chief curator of collections at the University of Pretoria, has revealed that Van Wouw worked with five Roman foundries, not three as was long thought.

The Strauss & Co bursary will be awarded to a postgraduate student to pursue this line of research.

The forthcoming sale includes castings from five foundries used by Van Wouw, including the previously unknown Buongirolami foundry for his bust of statesman Louis Botha (worth R200 000 to R300 000).

But the undisputed highlight is a full-length bronze maquette of the larger Church Square (Pretoria) sculpture, depicting Paul Kruger (R2.2 to R3.2 million), produced by the Nisini foundry and previously owned by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, who gifted it to the Rand Club.

Van Wouw’s Kruger bronze is among the sale’s top-five lots by value, ranking alongside a rare mosaic by Preller and three paintings, including a magnificent still-life by Stern, South Africa’s leading artist at auction.

Great anticipation surrounds the offering of Preller’s only known mosaic, a pristine work depicting five towering figures (R6 to R8 million) that was originally installed at a private home in Waterkloof, Pretoria.

Exquisite smaller paintings, such as A Box of Mangoes (R300 000 to R400 000), and homoerotic student work Two Male Nudes (R250 000 to R400 000) from 1934 are also on offer.

Flowers were a staple of Stern’s valued output, her floral still lifes functioning both as a source of painterly innovation and personal delight.

Dated 1946, Still Life with Fruit and Dahlias (R12 to R15 million) was produced after her second visit to Zanzibar in 1945 and portrays a generous bouquet of dahlias in a partially glazed Chinese martaban jar, dramatically presented in a Zanzibari frame with carved flower motifs.

Still Life with Basket of Flowers (R4.5 to R6 million) from 1937 records Stern’s fluent use of colour and innovative techniques within a nominally constraining genre.

In February, Strauss & Co established a new benchmark when it sold a vibrant photograph by multimedia artist AthiPatra Ruga for R1.7 million. This sale includes a tapestry by Ruga, Ilulwane … he’s not one of youz (R200 000 to R300 000), produced shortly after his breakout textiles inspired by Stern.

Other notable contemporary artists featured are Deborah Bell, Zander Blom, Willem Boshoff, Georgina Gratrix, Moshekwa Langa and Nelson Makamo, whose 2014 charcoal drawing Power over Love (R150 000 to R200 000) is a fine example of his pathos-infused work.

Two early works by William Kentridge, South Africa’s most acclaimed contemporary artist, will undoubtedly attract strong bidding: Untitled: Man, Woman and Warthog (R1.8 to R2.5 million) from 1985, and the triptych Art in a State of Grace, Hope and Siege (R1.2 to R1.6 million) from 1988 – the latter screen prints are rarely offered as a complete set.

A soft focus will be on artists who were or are still educators, with works by prominent teachers such as Bill Ainslie, Karel Nel, Cecil Skotnes and Penny Siopis. Cake: Treats (R400 000 to R600 000) is an early “cake” painting by Siopis, made in 1982 when she was still teaching art in Durban.

Preview this innovative, education-themed sale is from 10am to 5pm, Friday May 17 to Sunday May 19.

The sale commences at 3pm on Monday May 20, with the premier evening sale starting at 7pm

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