Work by SA’s art aristocracy estimated to pull in R80m
Major pieces, including by Stern, Laubser and Pierneef, can be viewed this weekend before Strauss & Co’s sale
Strauss & Co will hold its largest live auction by value, with combined estimates for its November 12 sale in Johannesburg exceeding R80m.
The sale has 26 lots with estimates of R1m or more, and includes works of astonishing range and depth by notable modernist painters such as Maggie Laubser, JH Pierneef, Alexis Preller and Irma Stern.
Stern’s 1941 portrait of Mary Cramer, a sister of the artist’s confidante, Freda Feldman, carries the sale’s highest estimate (estimate R5m-R7m).
This extraordinary portrait, notes art historian Federico Freschi, was once displayed in Feldman’s dining room. “It captures the complexities and contradictions that lie beneath the masks of outward appearance.”
The Johannesburg sale features 11 lots by Stern, including a fine selection of her society and travel portraits, notably the gouache works Congo Woman from 1942 (estimate R2m-R3m) and Lady of the Harem from 1945 (estimate R3m-R4m).
“Stern is the top-selling artist at Strauss & Co’s auctions, followed by JH Pierneef, who has 17 works on the present sale,” said Bina Genovese of Strauss.
Pierneef is best known for his expertly choreographed SA scenes, including Farm Jonkershoek with Twin Peaks Beyond,
Stellenbosch, which sold for R20.46m at a 2017 Strauss sale achieving a world record for Pierneef. The forthcoming sale includes two stylised foreign landscapes from his travels. Cinnamon Mill, Seychelles (estimate R4m-R5m) is an unusual post-impressionist study of tropical abundance. It was painted in 1954 during a holiday, long after Pierneef first heard of the East African island from his mentor, Frans Oerder.
Dar es Salam (estimate R4m-R6m is a verdant townscape complete with Pierneef’s ever-present cloud formations looming on the horizon.
The sale includes two exceptional landscapes from 1928, both linked to the Schweickerdt family in Pretoria, works that distil Pierneef’s genius for rendering place. Lowveld Eastern Transvaal (estimate R3m-R4m) is a mesmerising kaleidoscope of acutely observed natural colours, while Willow Trees, Roodeplaat Dam, (estimate R2m-R3m) is a mosaic of autumnal colours
Collectors will be able to bid for Pierneef’s three works depicting tobacconist Lodewijk de Jager’s shop, where the artist worked in the early 1900s. The two watercolours and a pencil drawing capture Pierneef’s fine sense for architectural detail (sold as one lot, estimate R200,000-R300,000).
Preller has in recent years become a sought-after artist at auction. In 2010, Strauss registered the first upswing in the value of Preller’s work when it sold The Flower King, a lateperiod metaphorical portrait from 1970, for R2.89m.
Preller has five lots on sale in Johannesburg, including Apple
II, a late-career intaglio with painted hollow that was produced in 1969 (estimate R4mR5m). African Profile (R1mR1.5m) dates from the start of Preller’s Gold period in 1965.
Two years ago, Strauss & Co successfully brought a number of important Prellers to market, some owned by prominent collector Walter Hardebeck.
Five oil paintings by pioneering expressionist Laubser are also on offer.
“The impeccable consignment includes her study of labour, Harvesters in Wheatfield
(estimate R2m-R3m), which features on the cover of Dalene Marais’s catalogue raisonné of the artist and forms an important part of our offering of nine Laubser lots,” said Genovese.
A portrait Leentjie (estimate R1m-R2m), which portrays a young female worker from the Laubser farm, is also on offer.
“The sale of these outstanding works is preceded by a session dedicated to under-recognised historical artists. The ‘Unsung History’ session offers collectors an expansive view of SA art history at a time of growing international interest in SA art,” said Genovese.
Two outstanding works by Erik Laubscher are among the highlights of the sale: Still Life with Papaya, recto; Still Life with Lemons, verso (estimate R2mR3m) and Overberg (estimate R1m-R1.3m).
The sale also includes a rich offering of works by contemporary artists including William Kentridge, Robert Hodgins, Diane Victor, Deborah Bell and Karel Nel.
All the lots will be available for viewing at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg from Friday, November 9 until shortly before the premier evening sale commences at 8pm on Monday, November 12.
A leading SA art outlet, Strauss & Co has sold nine of the 10 most expensive paintings ever auctioned in SA.
Unveiled: Irma Stern’s Lady of the Harem, signed and dated 1945, is one of the works by major artists on sale at Strauss & Co’s Johannesburg sale at Wanderers on Monday.