Laubser’s bold, simple works finally find glory
• Shunned by local critics for her expressionistic style, 1920s artist retreated to paint farm life
Maggie Laubser’s portrait of a Cape shepherd wearing two peacock feathers in his hat leads a strong selection of lots by this important expressionist painter, due to go on offer at Strauss & Co’s October 16 live sale at the Vineyard Hotel, Cape Town.
The Old Shepherd, which has an estimate price of R2.8m to R3.4m, is an important portrait from Laubser’s years of selfimposed isolation following her return from Berlin in 1924.
Laubser’s innovative expressionist painting style was mercilessly persecuted in the South African press when she began exhibiting after coming home.
The negative reception prompted Laubser to retreat to her family farm, Oortmanspos, outside Cape Town, where she immersed herself in portraying farm life.
Among her subjects was a shepherd named Ou Booi. In a 1956 interview, Laubser recalled that he was originally from Bloemfontein and wore an ostrich feather in his hat.
In the portrait The Old Shepherd, Laubser amplifies this detail to offer a vivid rendering of a self-possessed man with whom the artist was familiar and held in respect.
Laubser is known for her portrayal of farm labourers and animals. Cats and ducks were among her preferred animal subjects.
A Black and White Cat Seated Amongst Flowers (estimated at R800,000 to R1.2m) is a late work and portrays a cat with distinctive green eyes against a backdrop of brightly coloured plants, including an arum lily.
The bold composition, which bears out the artist’s stated search for “harmony of colour and form”, may have been drawn from real life; Laubser had a black cat. Throughout her career, Laubser painted birds, including flamingoes and gulls at Langebaan and storks in the Free State.
Much like A Black and White Cat Seated Amongst Flowers, Laubser’s Yellow Bird (estimate R500,000 to R700,000) showcases her painterly skill at integrating animal subjects into confidently described landscapes reduced to essential forms.
Strauss & Co is also offering two floral studies, Still Life of Pink Flowers in a Glass Vase (estimate R300,000 to R400,000) and Still Life with Lilies in a Vase Green (estimate R120,000 to R160,000).
The former work is signed and dated 1924, the year Laubser returned to her home country
LAUBSER PAINTED BIRDS, INCLUDING FLAMINGOES AT LANGEBAAN AND STORKS IN THE FREE STATE
from Berlin possessed of a new vision for painting.
Portrait of a Girl in a Headscarf (estimate R40,000 to R60,000) is a charcoal study of a young woman and shows Laubser’s uncomplicated graphic approach. Art critic FL Alexander said in 1962, that there was a “straightforward simplicity” to Laubser’s drawings and it remains endearing.
All these works will be on offer at Strauss & Co’s live sale at the Vineyard Hotel on Monday, October 16. A programme of social events and educational lectures prefaces the sale.
Flock and role: .Maggie Laubser’s portrait of a raffish Cape shepherd is due to go on offer at Strauss & Co’s October 16 live sale at the Vineyard Hotel, Cape Town.