An unrivalled richness of post-war paintings tops Strauss & Co’s. spring offering

By CityLife Arts Writer

Strauss & Co has announced advance details of a special artist focus on Erik Laubscher and Claude Bouscharain, two quintessential Cape painters, in its forthcoming live virtual auction, due to take place on 11-12 October 2021.

The spring sale includes important historical paintings by auction perennials like Laubscher, Adolph Jentsch, J.H. Pierneef, Stanley Pinker and Irma Stern, as well as sculpturesby Dylan Lewis and William Kentridge.

The high-value paintings in this sale collectively tell the story of South Africa’s emergent post-war art scene, which culminated in singular works such as Preller’s Boy with a Crocodile  (estimate R8 – 12 million). Executed at mural-like scale, this dazzling 1965 work combines symbol, blazing colour and surprising pattern. Painted two decades later, Pinker’s breezy compositionMe and You and a Dog Named Boo (estimate R1.5 – 2 million) is a symbol-laden portrayal of an elderly couple.

These works by Pinker and Preller will all be offered together with Stern’s 1958 study of a congested Andalusian waterfront, Fishing Harbour, Algeciras (R5-8 million), in the culminating session of Strauss & Co’s two-day auction. Thisfifth and final session includes three sought-after Lewis cat sculptures, including Sitting Cheetah Pair (estimate R1 – 1.5 million). This premier session begins at 6pm on Tuesday, 12 October with a consecutive offering of works by a much-loved Cape artist couple who met in Paris.

“Claude Bouscharain and Erik Laubscher were true doyens of Cape painting,” says Bina Genovese, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director. “Theconcluding session of our spring auction will commence with a showcase of eight examples of these two artists’ work. Spanning five decades, we hope this presentation will offer collectors an insight into their extraordinary entwined creative journey.”

Laubscher, who studied painting in Paris,went through many stylistic phases. The sale includes two examples of his School of Paris still lifesmade shortly after his return home in 1951. The double-sided composition Still Life with Papaya/ Still Life with Lemons (estimate R1.4 – 1.6 million) bears out Walter Battiss’s description of Laubscher as a “compelling” painter able to “paint big canvases with satisfying assurance”. Still Life with Fruit and a Blue Jug showcases the jouissance and vigour with which Laubscher approached his canvases.

Collectors equally prize Laubscher’s later Cape landscapes. The sale includes three late-period representational works made between 1998 and 2002. Dorre Landskap, Klein Karoo (estimate R350 000 – 500 000) and Storm Clouds near Prince Albert (estimate R300 000 – 400 000) reveal Laubscher’s attraction to grand vistas and his architectonic understanding of space. Summer Dawn near Laingsburg (estimate R160 000 – 200 000) shows Laubscher’s unadulterated passion for colour.

When he returned to Cape Town from Paris, Laubscher was newly married to artist Claude Bouscharain. Strauss & Co will present two works by Bouscharain. Completed in 1969, Adam and Eve Expelled from the Garden of Eden (estimate R40 000 – 60 000) is a strikingly modern and geometric rendition of the Biblical parable of exile. Dated 1981, To The Morning (estimate R50 000 – 70 000) is a bacchanalian study of swimming couple toasting the new day with red wine.

The sale features six lots apiece by Laubscher and Robert Hodgins, prolific artists whose careers started in the early post war and extended into the twenty-first century. In attitude and output, Laubser and Hodgins embodied two opposing city-based traditions in South African painting. Laubscher was from Cape Town, South Africa’s first city, a place of liberal ease and patrician manners. By contrast, Hodgins embodied the restless energies of Johannesburg, a new city of new people. 

The Hodgins consignment is led by fine examples of his late style.Two Figures(estimate R500 000 – 700 000) depicts a dissolving pair of figures against a dominant pink ground. Pink was frequently on Hodgins’ palette and this work from 2000 dates from a pronounced pink phase. Completed in 2008, Three Nudes and a Naked Man (estimate R500 000 – 700 000 each) is a beach scene executed in mustard and orange. The work explores the English language distinction between being naked and nude.

Hodgins’ career unfolded as a double act. After an initial burst of creativity in the 1950s, he spent the next decade working as a journalist before taking up a teaching position at the University of the Witwatersrand. The Hodgins lots include a rare painting dated 1967-73, from his missing middle period, Three Skulls (estimate R150 000 – 200 000). There are also late works that show the strong hold of Berlin modernism on Hodgins, an influence that he transferred to his collaborators, Deborah Bell and William Kentridge.

The highlight of the five Kentridge lots on offer is the rotating bronze Sculpture for Return (Commendatore Naso) (estimate R600 000 – 800 0000). Works by Bell, Hodgins and Kentridge will be presented to collectors in a standalone session devoted to contemporary art, scheduled forMonday, 11 October at 6pm. Highlights from this exciting session include an artist focus on Esther Mahlangu, a

Turiya Magadlela assemblage painting (estimate R150 000 – 200 000) and wire-and-bead sculpture by Igshaan Adams (estimate R150 000 – 200 000).

The two-day sale will also feature an extensive catalogue of collectable pieces assembled by experts from Strauss & Co’s decorative arts department, details of which will be announced in a separate media statement. Strauss & Co’s marquee spring auction will be prefaced by a standalone sale organised by its wine department. This sale will profile a trio of prestigious South African producers – Alheit Vineyards, Sadie Family Wines and Vilafonté – and commences at 10am on Sunday, 10 October 2021.

Education and hospitality are central to the Strauss & Co experience. As the post-vaccine world returns to a more settled rhythm, we are delighted to offer a rich programme of in-person and virtual webinars, lectures and walkabouts in the lead up to our 11-12 October live virtual auction. Led by Strauss & Co’s specialists, these events aim to provide collectors and the art-interested public with detailed insights into the October sale catalogue.

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