One of the highlights in Strauss & Co’s April 2021 marquee auction, to be held in Cape Town from 11–13 April, is The Madonna and Child of Soweto, also known as the Black Madonna, executed in 1976 by renowned abstract painter Larry Scully. This painting references Larry Scully’s most famous painting also titled The Madonna and Child of Soweto (1973), which is installed in the Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Rockville, Soweto. This earlier painting was commissioned by The Star, a liberal, anti-apartheid newspaper in Johannesburg, to raise money for an education fund. Businessman Harry Oppenheimer bought the painting and donated it to the church.
Regina Mundi, the largest Catholic church in South Africa, was a centre of anti-apartheid activism during the struggle years when political meetings were banned in other types of public places and its role as a gathering place and a sanctuary is legendary. During the student uprising in 1976, the year the work on the current sale was produced, hundreds of students fled to Regina Mundi after police opened fire on the protesters. After the end of apartheid in 1994, several meetings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were held in the church, and in 1997, Nelson Mandela declared 30 November ‘Regina Mundi Day’ in recognition of the importance of the church to the people of South Africa.
Scully, who came to prominence in the 1960s, was well known for his large-scale panel paintings, notably a series installed in the foyer of Dudley Heights, Hillbrow. The 1973 version of The Madonna and Child of Soweto painting is 1,5 by 2,5m and the work on the current sale, a revisiting by the artist of the same theme, is 1,2 by 1,5m. In both of Scully’s inculturated Madonna and child artworks, Mary and Jesus appear as black, floating above an eye. In the work on the current sale, produced during a particularly troubled year in Soweto’s history, the medallion containing the two figures is reduced in size and Scully integrates the figures into a spacious field of radiating colours and spontaneous brushwork typical of the artist’s lyrical abstractions.
Writing ten years after the advent of democracy in South Africa, journalist Mpho Lukoto referred to Scully’s works as poignant reminders of this country’s difficult past and enduring symbols of hope for the future (The Star, March 23, 2004).
Strauss & Co’s marquee live sale of modern, post-war and contemporary art, decorative arts, jewellery and fine wine will commence on Sunday, 11 April. The sale will be livestreamed to bidders from two sales venues in Cape Town and Johannesburg. There is an option to bid in-person at both venues. Covid-19 safety protocols will apply throughout.
The full auction is open for viewing by appointment at: Brickfield Canvas, 35 Brickfield Road, Woodstock