CityLife Arts

Great sculptures offered at auction

By CityLife Arts Writer

If ever  you fancied collecting works from these masters here is an opportunity to do so.

Bronzes by Kumalo, Legae and Lewis lead Strauss & Co’s robust sculpture offering Strauss & Co is in its next auction offering an exceptional offering of peak-period bronzes by three major South African sculptors – Sydney Kumalo, Ezrom Lezae and Dylan Lewis – due to go under the hammer in the concluding session of its dynamic four-day sale NORTH/SOUTH (8–11 November 2020).

The remarkable trove of sculpture on offer includes the only known casting of Kumalo’s iconic 1966 bronze Madala I, two important works by Legae and five Big Cat sculptures by Lewis. “Sydney Kumalo’s Madala I is a special high-point of South African modernism,” says Alastair Meredith, a senior artspecialist and head of Strauss & Co’s art department in Johannesburg. “It was cast at the Vignali Foundry in Pretoria, and as things turned out the only casting that emerged from a proposed edition of ten. A second version was made a few years later.

 It is worth noting that Kumalo was the subject of considerable international attention at the time he produced this museum-quality work.” In 1965, following a series of exhibitions in Italy organised by Johannesburg dealer Egon Guenther, Kumalo was included on the exhibition Fifty Years of Sculpture at London dealer Eric Estorick’s Grosvenor Gallery. The following year Kumalo was invited to represent South Africa at the Venice Biennale, underscoring his reputation as the country’s “best-known, most admired and most sought-after figurative sculptor,” as the New York Times described Kumalo in 1965. The late Johannesburg businessman Desmond Fisher (1942–1997) acquired Kumalo’s Madala I

. A small consignment of Fisher’s original collection inaugurates a session focus on South African andBritish modernist sculpture. Alongside Amadlozi Group sculptors Legae, Kumalo and Edoardo Villa, the session includes works by their English contemporaries Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick and Elisabeth Frink. Highlights from this part of the session include Edoardo Villa’s Interlocking Figures from 1969 (estimate R120 000 – 160 000), also from the Late Desmond Fisher Collection, as well as Elisabeth

Frink’s figurative treatise Man Running I (estimate R350 000 – 500 000) and Lynn Chadwick’s faceted Standing Figure from 1977 (estimate R300 000 – 500 000). The artist and influential dealer Joe Wolpe, who passed away in October 2020, previously owned the Chadwick.

The prevalence of British modernist sculptors in South African collections owes a great deal to the activities of dealer Linda Givon, founder of the Goodman Gallery in 1966. A past employee of dealer Eric Estorick, Givon utilized her London network to exhibit major British modernists such as David Hockney, Henry Moore, Kenneth Armitage and Lynn Chadwick in Johannesburg. The latter three became a strong influence on Kumalo and Legae, as did Elisabeth Frink.

Strauss & Co is privileged to offer two important works by Legae that chart twokey moments in his career: The Prisoner (Young Man), a upright figure composition from 1968 (estimate R800 000 – 1 000 000); and African Goat/She Goat, a unique pairing of two late-career goat sculptures from 1990 (estimate R2.5 – 3 million). The Prisoner is a magnificent and agonizing work evocative of the political moment in which it was created, while Legae’s two goats possess a humour and lightness of touch that distinguishes them from his earlier work.

An established artist at auction, Dylan Lewis was born into a family of artists that includes his great-grandfather, architect Thomas Rayfon Lewis, and father, sculptor Robin Lewis. He established his reputation with his Big Cat series, notably a series of 18 life-size leopard sculptures at Leopard Creek Country Club in Malelane, Mpumalanga, commissioned in 1997. The popularity of his wild cats was confirmed in 2007 when London auction house Christie’s sold 76 works in 90

minutes. Strauss & Co’s offering includes two important early works from 1996, Stretching Leopard and Awakening Leopard, each carrying an estimate of R900 000 – 1 200 000. The tallest work on offer is Sitting Cheetah II, a 125cm bronze made in 2005(estimate R1 – 1.5 million). The maquette for Standing Leopard III is dated 2012 (estimate R350 000 – 500 000), while the grouping Playing Cheetahs is from 2003 (estimate R200 000 – 250 000).

The history of contemporary bronze sculpture in South Africa is diverse and includes many fine advocates of the medium. Strauss & Co’s bronze focus includes works by Lucas Sithole, Stanley Nkosi, Percy Konqobe and Speelman Mahlangu, whose Twins from 2003 (estimate R300 000 – 500 000) hints at the enduring influence of the Amadlozi tradition.

The session also includes Neels Coetzee’s Figure and Shield II from 1977 (estimate R200 000 – 300 000), two shield-like bronze forms incorporating anatomical references, and an untitled figurative allegory by David Brown (estimate R600 000 – 800 000) linked to his celebrated Voyages series (1989). Brown started to work in bronze in 1984. Please join senior art specialist Alastair Meredith for a fascinating virtual Talkabout focussing on Strauss & Co’s outstanding bronze offering on 4 November. A recording of this talk will be archived on Strauss & Co’s dedicated YouTube channel. Bidding on all the works mentioned – including those by Sydney Kumalo, Ezrom Lezae and Dylan Lewis, as well as works from the Late Desmond Fisher Collection – is now open. Bidding will conclude in the final session of NORTH/SOUTH on Wednesday11 November 2020 at 7pm.

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