An important drawing from William Kentridge’s award-winning 1991 film Sobriety, Obesity, and Growing Old was the top lot by value at Strauss & Co’s spring sale in Cape Town. The drawing sold to a telephone bidder for R4 092 480, well above its high estimate.
The daylong sale generated a turnover of R65 412 721, a solid result based on a value sell-through rate of 84.3%. The 660-lot sale included a superb selection of decorative arts, jewellery and artworks spanning three distinct periods in this country’s art history: earlier South African art, post-war art and contemporary art.
Contemporary artists performed especially well. John Meyer’s Odysseus, a rare landscape of a night sky, surpassed its high estimate and sold for R3 069 360. The sale price is a new world record for this contemporary painter.
Billie Zangewa’s Working Nights, a silk tapestry quoting two scenes from the 1942 film Casablanca, fetched R204 624, quadrupling its high estimate. The result follows closely on Zangewa’s critically acclaimed appearance at Frieze London earlier this month.
A sculptural work by Wim Botha and an abstract painting by Zander Blom also performed well, selling for R454 720 and R250 096 respectively. Alfred Thoba’s Boys are Sweets, an enamel on paper work depicting a musical soirée, sold for R136 416, well over the high estimate of R30 000.
“The appetite for our diverse offering of contemporary art is very encouraging,” said Strauss & Co’s chairperson Frank Kilbourn, who last week announced the company’s intentions to hold a dedicated contemporary art sale in February 2018. “Strauss & Co has deepened its involvement to the contemporary art market by co-sponsoring the South African Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale and is a founding member of Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. Our contemporary sale is a logical commitment to broadening the base of contemporary art sales in Africa.”
Vigorous bidding for two portraits by Alexis Preller confirmed his status as the leading post-war painter of his generation. Christ Head, from 1947, was the subject of competitive bidding and eventually sold for R2 273 600, surpassing its pre-sale estimate by 800%. The Poet Prince, from 1975, also soared well above the pre-sale estimate, achieving R1 818 880.
There was also significant interest in another late-career Preller from 1975, Undeciphered, Computerised Message I (or II), which sold for R1 932 560, trouncing the high estimate of R800 0000. “We have invested a significant amount in promoting Preller over the past 12 months,” said Bina Genovese, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director. “We are delighted that the market is recognising the inherent quality of this remarkable artist.”
Other noteworthy sales in the post-war category included The Early Men by Walter Battiss. Painted in 1938, after his first trip abroad, this important painting, which captures Battiss’s fledgling attempt to negotiate the twin influences of European painterly modernism and local rock art, sold for R511 560. Limpopo, also by Battiss, achieved R318 304.
Erik Laubscher and Peter Clarke, two important post-war artists from Cape Town, also performed well. Laubscher’s Still Life with Iron and Fruit from 1951, surpassed its high estimate of R1.6 million, selling for R2 046 240. Bidders chased after Clarke’s gouache on paper, Birds in Flight from 1960, which sold for R568 400. Girl with Goats, from 1974, fetched R363 776. Day Dreaming, a pensive marine landscape from 1967, sold for R431 984.
A bounty of decorative arts and jewellery netted Strauss & Co a total of R8 978 786 in sales. Highlights from the day sale included a Cape yellowwood and stinkwood inlaid cupboard which sold for R250 096, doubling its high estimate. A fine Namikawa Yasuyuki Japanese cloisonné enamel jar and cover from the Meiji period far exceeded its high estimate selling for R170 520.
Jewellery performed very well. Interest was particularly strong in Scandinavian silver examples, a striking Georg Jensen Mobius pendant/brooch designed by Vivianna Torun from the 1970s fetched R11 000, more than triple its high estimate.
Earlier South African artists like JH Pierneef, Maggie Laubser and Irma Stern have been the bedrock of Strauss & Co’s offering since its inception. Laubser’s portrait, The Old Shepherd, sold for R 3 183 040. The highest grossing Pierneef was a 1944 oil depicting a majestic leadwood tree, Hardekoolboom in a Bushveld Landscape, which achieved R2 273 600 and Stern’s Black Lilies, an unusual floral study from 1941 sold for R2 273 600.
Scale is never a barometer of value, as was evidenced in the robust bidding for Pierneef’s 1924 casein landscape, Jonkershoek: Stellenbosch, which doubled its presale estimate and sold for R1 250 480.