Sunday Times

Stern’s ‘Dahlias’ pick of bunch

- Arts · Painting · Auctions · Visual Arts · Irma Stern · Cape Town · Maryland · Sao Paulo

● A flo­ral still life by Irma Stern, SA’s fore­most pain­ter, is the high­light of Strauss & Co’s boun­ti­ful crop of of­fer­ings at its spring sale in Cape Town this month. Painted in 1947, Dahlias (es­ti­mate R8m to R12m), pic­tured, is a peak-pe­riod Stern de­pict­ing a favoured flower.

It claims an im­pec­ca­ble prove­nance. Orig­i­nally owned by renowned art col­lec­tors Ben and Ce­cilia Jaffe, Stern’s bril­liantly coloured oil was ac­quired by noted Cape Town col­lec­tor Count Luc­cio Labia in 1994 at a sale han­dled by auc­tion­eer Stephan Welz, who in 2009 helped es­tab­lish Strauss & Co, now SA’s lead­ing auc­tion house. Part of a con­sign­ment of 22 paint­ings from the Labia fam­ily col­lec­tion, Dahlias ex­hibits Stern’s mas­ter­ful brush­work and au­thor­i­ta­tive han­dling of paint.

Dahlias were a re­cur­rent sub­ject in Stern’s paint­ings from the 1930s and 1940s. The artist pro­duced five still lifes fea­tur­ing these sump­tu­ous cut flow­ers, of which this paint­ing is the fifth. Dahlias has been char­ac­terised by noted Stern scholar Mar­ion Arnold as an “ex­u­ber­ant com­po­si­tion” that bursts “be­yond the con­fines of the frame”.

The in­ter­sec­tion of qual­ity and prove­nance is a hall­mark of Strauss & Co’s Oc­to­ber sale. The cat­a­logue in­cludes 22 paint­ings re­leased from the Labia fam­ily col­lec­tion, as well as 20 works in var­i­ous me­dia from the Peter and Regina Strack col­lec­tion, no­tably three rare oils by Adolph Jentsch.

Ger­man-born Peter Strack im­mi­grated to Namibia in 1950 and was a part­ner in the ar­chi­tec­tural firm Stauch & Part­ners. He be­gan hon­ing his skills as an artist and col­lec­tor un­der the tute­lage of Jentsch and prin­ci­pally col­lected 20th-cen­tury Namib­ian art, no­tably works by Jentsch, Fritz Krampe and John Muafangejo.

High­lights in­clude Vlei on Farm

Teufels­bach (es­ti­mate R600,000 to R800,000), which of­fers a de­light­fully ver­dant view of the Otji­hav­era River, and Iben­stein, SW Afrika (es­ti­mate R600,000 to R700,000), a mas­ter­fully achieved night scene in grey.

“Art­works owned by es­teemed and vi­sion­ary col­lec­tors are al­ways sought af­ter by newer gen­er­a­tions of col­lec­tors,” says Bina Gen­ovese, joint MD of Strauss & Co. “Dis­cern­ing col­lec­tors recog­nise that col­lect­ing not only in­volves con­nois­seur­ship but also cus­to­di­an­ship, and by own­ing a work pre­vi­ously held by an im­por­tant col­lec­tor they are par­tic­i­pat­ing in a lin­eage of dis­cern­ment.”

Other no­table works from sin­gle-owner col­lec­tions on of­fer at Strauss & Co’s spring sale in­clude two paint­ings and two draw­ings by Stern re­leased by the Irma Stern Trust Col­lec­tion, as well as four re­lief paint­ings by Kenneth Bakker.

Stern’s Cas­tle, Madeira (es­ti­mate R2m to R3m) dates from 1963 and de­picts the Fort of São João Bap­tista do Pico with a trop­i­cal pal­ette of warm ochres, yel­lows, pinks and red, off­set against a lively sea of emer­ald green tones.

An ear­lier por­trait, from 1949, Woman with Or­ange Head­scarf (es­ti­mate R250,000 to R350,000), pic­tured, also forms part of the re­lease. Pro­ceeds from the sale of these works will ben­e­fit the Irma Stern Trust.

Part of a ne­glected gen­er­a­tion of mid­cen­tury abstract painters, Bakker was the first lo­cal pain­ter to re­ceive an award at the São Paulo Bi­en­nale.

The four Bakker lots date from 1967 to 1980 and in­clude Tidal Pool (es­ti­mate R70,000 to R 100,000) and Re­lief Paint­ing with Con­struc­tion No 2 (es­ti­mate R50,000 to R 70,000), three-di­men­sional as­sem­blages com­posed of over­lap­ping sheets of Per­spex painted with lay­ers of oil­paint to pro­duce a phys­i­cally tex­tured sur­face.

A global leader for South African art, Strauss & Co has sold nine of the 10 most ex­pen­sive paint­ings ever auc­tioned in SA. Stern’s Dahlias (lot 513) will go un­der the ham­mer on the evening of Mon­day Oc­to­ber 15 at the Vine­yard Ho­tel in New­lands, Cape Town.

The pub­lic can view this im­por­tant work, along with other works men­tioned, from Oc­to­ber 12 to 14, from 10am to 5pm.

The sale also in­cludes out­stand­ing ex­am­ples of jew­ellery, dec­o­ra­tive arts and fur­ni­ture.

Strauss & Co will also be host­ing an ex­ten­sive pro­gramme of pub­lic talks and so­cial events in the lead-up to the sale.

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