Strauss & Co is pleased to announce details of the theme for its forthcoming Johannesburg sale, due to be held at its Houghton offices on Monday, 11 November. The summer sale will focus collectors’ attention on the strong influence Paris has exerted on South African art throughout the twentieth century.
“Paris was a beacon for countless South African artists,” says Susie Goodman, executive director at Strauss & Co. “The first South African artist to study in Paris was Robert Gwelo Goodman, in 1895. The list of local artists who followed in his footsteps is as remarkable as it is long. The top three lots in our upcoming sale are by Alexis Preller, William Kentridge, and Penny Siopis, highly acclaimed artists who each spent time in Paris early in their careers.”
The top lot is Preller’s Icon Barbare (Adam), an oil painting quoting his powerful 1969 intaglio Adam (sold by Strauss & Co in 2016 for R6.8 million). Shown on the artist’s 1972 Pretoria Art Museum retrospective, Icon Barbare (estimate R8.5 – 10 million) depicts the biblical first man with Prelleresque flourishes.
“The Christ-like beard and hair are ambiguously transformed with green and leaf-like tendrils thus assuming a pagan quality,” notes artist and Preller expert Karel Nel. “The transmuted presence feels more like an icon of Pan, the Greek god of nature, of fertility, the mountains and wilds.”
The November sale includes a 1954 sketch for the upper part of the central panel of the large three-panel All Africa mural, installed at the former Receiver of Revenue (now SARS) offices, Johannesburg (estimate R400 000 – 600 000). Assuredly loose in style, this oil on canvas reveals Preller’s admiration for French Fauvist painter Raoul Dufy, a lifelong friend of painter Othon Friesz.
Preller met Friesz, a teacher at Académie de la Grande Chaumière, in 1937 during his first trip to Paris. Lacking funds to study at his art school, Preller invested his energies in the “tireless examination of the works of modern artists on view in galleries,” according his biographer Esmé Berman. During these expeditions Preller recognised in Gauguin “a guide to the direction he himself might follow”. This influence is evident in Mapogga Wedding (R2 – 3 million), a 1952 oil depicting a bride and groom set slightly askew with Gauguinesque figures in the background.
The influence of Paris is also evident in the work of contemporary masters such as William Kentridge and Penny Siopis. In 1981 Kentridge studied mime and theatre at a Paris acting school founded by Jacques Lecoq. A decade later, having decisively returned to making art, he produced the collage Iris, a highly unusual colour work portraying a single flower in Van Gogh’s Provencal tones of blue and purple (estimate R3 – 5 million).
Five years later, Siopis undertook a seven-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts after winning the Volkskas Atelier Award with her well-known painting Melancholia. The forthcoming sale includes a companion work, Act I Scene II (estimate R2.8 – 3.5 million), which was interrupted by Siopis’s stay in Paris and completed upon her return to Johannesburg à la Melancholia. This lot includes various pictorial elements (tortoise shell, porcupine quills, classical statuettes, red arum lilies) appearing in Melancholia.
The upcoming sale is an opportunity for collectors and art lovers to explore South African art’s indebtedness to Paris. Artists from various periods are represented in the catalogue, including Ruth Everard Haden, Clément Sénèque and Maud Sumner, who all studied in Paris during the interwar years. Sumner’s Woman Seated at a Mirror (estimate R350 000 – 500 000) is an intimate domestic scene in the style of Bonnard and Vuillard.
Postwar painters also feature prominently. They include Erik Laubscher, who studied at the Académie Montmartre under Fernand Léger, Bettie Cilliers-Barnard, Sydney Goldblatt and Anna Vorster, who all studied at the Paris art school founded by cubist painter André Lhote. Standout lots include Laubscher’s School of Paris work from 1956, Abstract Landscape (R250 000 – 300 000) and Cilliers-Barnard’s international style Abstract Composition (estimate R80 000 – 120 000) painted a year later.
Paris was more than simply a workshop for painterly innovation; it provided shelter for dissidents and exiles. Following in the footsteps of pioneering abstract painter Ernest Mancoba, who settled in Paris in 1938, Gerard Sekoto choose to leave apartheid South Africa for the City of Lights a decade later. A highly collectible artist, Sekoto is represented in a wine-coloured composition from 1968, Three Figures (estimate R350 000 – 500 000).
Highlights from the contemporary selection include Diane Victor’s There’s Fire in the Thatch (estimate R300 000 – 500 000), a large charcoal and chalk pastel drawing portraying six figures locked in an embrace hovering over a burning landscape. Victor won the 1988 Absa l’Atelier Art Competition and – like Siopis – stayed at the Cité Internationale des Arts. During her ten-month residency she produced drawings combining classical references with contemporary social comment and autobiographical detail.
All these works will go under the hammer on Monday, 11 November at Strauss & Co’s new sales and exhibition space at 89 Central Street, Houghton, in Johannesburg. The Paris-themed sale will also include a collection of Edoardo Villa bronze sculptures from the estate of Aldo Carrara, a lifelong friend of the artist, as well as a number of noteworthy landscape scenes by JH Pierneef.
Strauss & Co will be hosting an extensive programme of public talks and social events in the lead-up to this sale.