CityLife Arts

Two centuries of South African art on auction

By  CityLife Arts writer

With museums and galleries closed during Covid-19 health lockdown, Strauss & Co’s online sale of Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts and Wine (25 May – 1 June) offers an inspiring journey through two centuries of art from South Africa, and beyond. Like a museum with many annexes, the 500-lot sale covers a range of artistic genres and periods, and features a handsome showcase of decorative arts and wines inspired by Chenin and Pinotage.

Historical attractions from the multi-generational selling showcase of art include trailblazers of the landscape tradition (Gwelo Goodman, JH Pierneef, WH Coetzer and JEA Volschenk), leading exponents of post-war abstraction (Christo Coetzee, Bill Ainslie, Hannes Harrs) and singular modernist sculptors (Elsa Dziomba, Joseph Wolpe). The contemporary selection is similarly extensive and includesfine examples of paintings (Johannes Phokela, Beezy Bailey, Willie Bester), printmaking (Diane Victor, Claudette Schreuders, Maja Maljevic) and ceramics (Hylton Nel, Noria Mabasa and Lionel Smit).

LOT 405

For Strauss & Co senior art specialist Wilhelm van Rensburg, the selection maps diverse historical themes and trends. Highlights include the impressive portfolio selection, notably with worksby two past winners of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, Pippa Skotnes (White Wagons, R30 000 – 50 000) and Beth Diane Armstrong To Skip the Last Step, R15 000 – 20 000). Three artist’s books by Judith Mason (including A Dante Bestiary, R18 000 – 24 000, and her 1988 collaboration with poet Wilma Stockenström, Skoelapperheuwel, Skoelappervrou, R25 000 – 35 000) are testimony to the country’s strong tradition of printmaking.

Van Rensburg is particularly enthusiastic about a “maximal minimal” etching by conceptual artist Willem Boshoff (Word Woes, R40 000 – 60 000), and a late work by abstract-expressionist painter Bill Ainslie Pachipamwe No. 5, R40 000 – 60 000), whose pioneering workshop methodhe says is the subject of the forthcoming survey exhibition. A carved serpentine sculpture by Elsa DziombaHead of a Man, R10 000 – 15 000) marks a rare sighting at auction of this major force in mid-20th century South African art. “Her work is scarce as hen’s teeth in the secondary market,” says Van Rensburg.

LOT 388

Cape Town art specialist Jean le Clus-Theron is enthusiastic about the large selection of works of artists from Namibia, including Adolph Jentsch, Carl Ossman, Axel Eriksson and Fritz Krampe.A highlight of the Krampe lots is the oil painting Masken/Masks (R100 000 – 200 000), from the Peter and Regina Strack Collection. Strauss & Co established the world record for Krampe’s work at a 2018 auction.

Every sale includes little gems. For Le Clus-Theron, Hugo Naudé’s petite oil Street Scene, Utrecht Holland (R20 000 – 30 000) is one. She also singles out two paintings by Joseph Wolpe, who is better known to some as a dealer and friend of Irma Stern. Van Rensburg points to a large print,Karoo Twilight (R30 000 – 50 000) by Basil Jones, cofounder of the Handspring Puppet Company. For a sure bet, Van Rensburg directs collectors to Gaiety (R10 000 – 15 000), one of two woodcuts by Peter Clarke, and Le Clus-Theron to prints by Walter Battiss.

LOT 423

Amongst the selection of English and Continental silver pieces featuring on the May online auction, there is an eye-catching George IV hot-water jug ornately moulded with Greek mythological sea-gods by Hyam Hyams of London, 1828 (R15 000 – 20 000), an usual cigar-shaped George VI sugar castor by S Blanckensee & Son of Chester, 1937 (R2 000 – 3 000), and a George V four-piece tea service by Henry Matthews of Birmingham, 1915 (R8 000 -12 000). A Japanese milk jug dating from the Meiji period (R1 500 – 2 000) is a highlight of the Oriental silver.

Decorative boxes were popular in 18th-century Europe for storing jewellery and small personal items. Two are featured on the auction, each circular, one late 18th/early 19th century in tortoiseshell finely painted with figures by a quayside, and a dainty French silver and gold example, circa 1905 (each valued at R3 000 – 4 000).

Worth mentioning are six rare Royal Worcester ‘Erica’ botanical plates (R4 000 – 6 000). Each plate was hand-painted and signed by William Hale, a renowned artist at the factory at the turn of the century, and will have particular appeal to local botanists. 

With the current ban on the purchase of tobacco, smokers will remember wistfully the rare pleasure of lighting up a cigar. A substantial group of interesting 19th and 20th century smokers’ accoutrements and accessories such as silver cigar cutters, cheroot piercers, cases and other paraphernalia put together by a collector will attract attention – to be enjoyed when the situation permits.

The current lockdown has also curtailed vinous pleasures. Following on Strauss & Co’s white-glove sale of Bordeaux-style wines on 10 May, held in full compliance with current legislation, the upcoming online sale draws attention to wines inspired by Chenin and Pinotage.“These varieties have a long lineage of unique expression in the Cape and have become an international calling card for South African wine,” says sommelier Higgo Jacobs, who with wine specialist Roland Peens of Wine Cellar entered into a joint venture with Strauss & Co to create a fine wine auction.

Jacobs adds, “Fine wines from the best producers of both Chenin and Pinotage are wonderfully diverse and possess remarkable ageability, as illustrated by the lively and complex 15 year-old De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc (three-bottle magnum lot) and the elegant Lanzerac Pinotages from the late 1960s that have aged gracefully for over halfacentury.”“We are excited to make available mature vintages of the greatest Chenin Blanc and Pinotage South Africa has produced! All the big names are present: Sadie, Alheit, Raats, Ken Forrestor, Beyerskloof, Rijks and more” says Peens.

Meantime, Strauss & Co will be resuming its popular Talkabouts during the weeklong duration of the online sale. Hosted every weekday at 4pm by art specialist Matthew Partridge on Zoom, the Talkabouts will run continuously until Strauss & Co’s next hybrid auction through Invaluable.com on Monday, 27 July 2020. The schedule for these virtual discussions will see wine occupy the Monday slot. Tuesday is billed as an auction masterclass and will feature Strauss & Co senior art specialist Ann Palmer and guests discussing auction history.

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