What to look out for at Strauss & Co’s Fine Art Auction
An impressive selection of work by SA artists will be on offer soon
If you’ve got the loot to invest in a work of art, you might want to get to the live Strauss & Co Fine Art Auction at Joburg’s Wanderers Country Club on June 4.
The firm’s latest catalogue, which landed at the FM recently, details 325 lots of paintings, sculptures and works on paper (both of the 20th century and the contemporary kind) that will be up for sale.
Here, in no particular order, are 15 stand-out pieces chosen by the Strauss & Co team that we should all know about — irrespective of our buying power.
Lot 233: Willem Boshoff, Land Grab, price estimate R100,000-R150,000
Frank Kilbourn, Strauss & Co executive chair, was struck by the highly topical yet subtle sand-and-wood wall sculpture, made in 2012. Boshoff surreptitiously introduced the four letters G, R, A and B into his "chopped-up", unspoilt and uninhabited land, inevitably to be claimed and possibly converted into a futuristic city. The incorporated word "grab" is the "fine print" that strikes at the heart of the right to land, which is often contested the world over and now so intensely occupies the SA political discourse. The word pertinently implies the lack of discourse — the taking of land by force, a frequent feature in the history of the world.
Lot 210: Armando Baldinelli, 1908-2002, Untitled, price estimate R50,000-R70,000
Bina Genovese, joint MD, selected an untitled work by Italian-born Baldinelli, who came to SA in 1953. Genovese says her parents knew the artist well and often visited him in his studio. "We would spend hours listening to him talk about his works," she says.
"As a wedding present to my parents, he gave them a beautiful portrait of my mother, which to this day hangs in our dining room, attracting attention and conversation.
"As his works rarely come up for auction, I was delighted when I saw Untitled featured as one of the stand-out lots in the strong offering of abstract works. This is a wonderful example of his early style [at a time when] his focus was on creating assemblages out of discarded items and turning them into something aesthetically pleasing."
Lot 185: Henry Davies, Pig’s Head I, price estimate R20,000-R30,000, and lot 186: also by Davies, Lithops, price estimate R10,000-R15,000
The two wooden sculptures by Davies caught the attention of Susie Goodman, Strauss & Co’s executive director. They are beautifully and neatly reduced to their essential shapes and wonderfully represent Davies’s refined, vanguard sculpture. Davies trained at the then University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, a mid-century hotbed of modernism.
"Meeting the humble and engaging Davies has been a privilege and his work imbues a sense of his spirit as a teacher and a sculptor," says Goodman.
Lot 273: Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, 1886-1957, Shingwedzi — Kruger Wildtuin, price estimate R1.5m-R2.5m
This is a favourite of Alastair Meredith, art specialist and head of the firm’s art department. It was painted in 1955. Gigantic trees dominate the foreground of this painting. They form a proscenium arch, framing a pleasant view of the rest of the landscape in the background.
Shingwedzi is a popular rest camp in the Kruger National Park, and is known for its indigenous trees. A case in point is the knob thorn on the right and an acacia tree in full bloom on the left of the image. The shrubby, orange-brown trees between these two giants are mopane trees. Marula trees can be distinguished in the middle ground, while to the right of them is a cluster of bushwillows. These are considered the Big Five trees in the camp.
Lot 304: Alexis Preller, 1911-1975, Contrapuntal Figures II, price estimate R2m-R3m
The life and work of Preller is a preoccupation of Meredith’s. This exquisite large and dazzling canvas, painted in 1964, is a stand-out work for him. The painting is characterised by a strong emphasis on painterly quality. The fluidity of paint is especially noticeable and is used as a device to create a sense of shifting surface layers. This is in contrast to the meticulous, linear nature of the artist’s more familiar mid-century style.
Lot 288: Alexis Preller, Poseidon, price estimate R3m-R5m
Meredith is delighted to have this work on auction. It forms part of the artist’s landmark late-career series of breathtaking, enigmatic and mighty intaglios. Cast and painted in 1970, it has never been exhibited; it was a gift from the artist to close friends and has remained in the same family collection since it left the artist’s studio.
Lot 125: Wilfred Alec Delporte, Flight Form, price estimate R30,000-R50,000
Meredith picked this rare sculpture. The artist was naturally drawn to working in wood and metal, and this sculpture Deep Pool, from the series Colonial Landscape, price estimate R3m-R4m
Wilhelm van Rensburg, senior art specialist, believes this work is arguably the most important Kentridge landscape to come on the secondary market. Deep Pool (1996) was an integral part of the first review exhibition of the artist’s works in the US in 2001. The work travelled to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Lot 303: Sydney Kumalo, 1935-1988, Figure on a Bull, price estimate R400,000-R600,000
Senior art specialist Marion Dixon chose this, the artist’s masterful blending of different influences of West and Central African sculpture with the simplifications of the human form influenced by modernist sculptors like Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore. It has gained him great international acclaim.
Kumalo’s figures and animals are effortlessly shaped and wilfully distorted to form powerful yet harmonious forms. The face of the man and the bull, with their stylised brow and mouth, are fluidly emulated with their heads tilted elegantly upwards.
Lot 214: Sam Nhlengethwa, Image IV, price estimate R200,000-R300,000
Van Rensburg also selected this large-scale painting, which forms part of the sizeable number of abstract works on the auction. Dated 1990, it is an example of Nhlengethwa’s experimentation with abstract art — a style very different to his well-known figurative one.
Lot 121: Cecily Sash, Diagonal Drama, price estimate R70,000-R100,000
Dixon also earmarked this brightly coloured abstract work by Sash, painted in 1984. SA-born Sash moved to the UK in 1974 and still lives there. Based on the uncomplicated envelope-like diagonal cross and triangles, what began as an exercise in organising pictorial space culminated in a series of works titled Envelope. It is as if Sash folded, bent, tucked and wrapped the pictorial plane into new shapes and forms.
Lot 292: Alexis Preller, Self Portrait as an Old Man, price estimate R3m-R5m
Another of Dixon’s favourites is this rare self-portrait by Preller, one of only three known self-portraits of him. Painted in 1950, the artist’s portrayal of his older self bears an uncanny resemblance to photographs taken of him 25 years later, shortly before his death in 1975. Preller painted two portraits of himself in the work; one modestly at the bottom of the canvas and another full figure set back in the evening light of the landscape. He is surrounded by a number of emblematic images which appear to occupy his thoughts, his subconscious and his imagination.
Lot 278: Gerard Sekoto, 1913-1993, Ndebele Women, price estimate R600,000-R800,000
Arisha Maharaj, junior art specialist, is captivated by this work. It was most likely painted in 1946 or 1947, shortly after Sekoto began living in self-imposed exile in Paris, and displays his nostalgia for the country of his birth. He depicts the Ndebele women huddled in conversation. The work is painted in a highly stylised manner and in rich earthy tones reminiscent of the Southern African soil.
Lot 210: Diane Victor, The Boat of Charon, price estimate R40,000-R60,000
Strauss & Co has five artworks by Victor on auction. Richard "Specs" Ndimande, Strauss & Co intern and winner of the 2017 Cassirer Welz Award, selected this work.
It is a highly personal and intense, almost shockingly brutal interpretation of the ferryman of Hades who in Greek mythology carries the souls of the newly deceased across the River Styx that divides the living from the dead. Victor made this etching after returning from an overseas scholarship to learn that her father had died while she was away.
With her trademark artistry, skill and fearless approach, Victor tackles head-on the unbearable — the harshness, inhumanity and violence in a society that is often immune to the ills that surround it daily.
• Information provided by Strauss & Co; to view the full catalogue, visit straussart.co.za