Iconic painter Irma Stern’s four artworks leading the first live Strauss &Co. auction in Cape Town

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

If there is one thing that has been happening with Irma Stern, the late iconic Post modernist painter, Irma Stern is the rise and rise of the profile of her works on the secondary art market, here in South Africa and globally in the recent past. This is as there has also been a parallel consistency in both interest and price of the works on global auction floors.

The local fine art auction market has also had a good share of the Stern works over the recent years, and they have been doing pretty well as well as she continues to be a favourite with collectors, who continue to bid fiercely for an Irma Stern art work.

Within this context of the rise in both interest and prices of Irma Stern’s works, leading fine art auction house, Strauss &Co. has four Irma Stern works in its first live auction this year, which will take place in Cape Town next month, and it will be interesting to see how her works will perform this time around during that auction.

Important Senegalese portrait by Irma Stern invigorates Strauss & Co’s figure-rich April sale

“Strauss & Co is thrilled to announce details of its first live auction of 2022. This annual auction, an important event on the Cape Town art calendar, will be held over four consecutive days (3-6 April 2022) at Brickfield Canvas, a creative and tech campus in Woodstock. Auction highlights include four outstanding paintings by the highly collectable artist Irma Stern, a trove of excellent works by leading artists Maggie Laubser, Sydney Khumalo, George Pemba, Alexis Preller and Thania Peterson, as well as three single-owner collections of English and Asian decorative arts.

The auction programme for this hybrid in-person and live-streamed auction will commence on Sunday, 3 April 2022 with a producer-focussed session hosted by Strauss & Co’s wine department. On Monday, 4 April 2022, the decorative arts department will host a morning session devoted to Asian art, and an afternoon session featuring properties from two important collections of chiefly historical English furniture. The live auction programme culminates with three sessions of modern, post-war and contemporary art, scheduled to go under the hammer on Tuesday and Wednesday, 5 and 6 April 2022.

A comprehensive e-catalogue is available online in advance of this marquee live auction. Strauss & Co will also offer a printed catalogue featuring lots appearing in the two premier evening sessions of art. This catalogue, which features cover lots by painters Maggie Laubser and George Pemba, will be available to bidders at the start of the preview week, which runs from Monday, 28 March to Sunday, 3 April 2022,” Strauss &Co. Said in astaement tis week.

“The presentation and format for this auction is based on innovations and enhancements introduced over the past two years,” says Bina Genovese, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director. “There is a strong curatorial approach to the presentation of lots throughout the sessions. Our aim is to provide collectors with context and insight into the fabulous lots we will be presenting for sale.”

Alongside art works, there will also be an opportunity for wine collectors to bid for some of the vintage ones that will be on offer at this auction.

“As is now customary, the wine department will inaugurate Strauss & Co’s live auction with a session profiling a trio of prestigious producers from Hemel-en-Aarde (“Heaven and Earth”). This illustrious wine valley stretching inward from the coastal enclave of Hermanus is home to Crystallum Wines, Newton Johnson Vineyards and Storm Wines. Strauss & Co will focus on their chardonnay and pinot noir wines.

A collection of 122 lots from China, Japan and South-East Asia assembled by a Cape Town collector of oriental art introduces the extensive decorative arts catalogue. Highlights from this private collection include a rare Chinese Yixing peach-form washer from the Kangxi period (est.  R10 000 – 15 000) and Japanese Imperial Satsuma koro from the Meiji period (est. R5 000 – 7 000),” revealed  the fine art auction house.

Besides art and wines, there will also be furniture on auction.

“Following the successful sale of Chinese pieces from the property of a connoisseur in April 2021, Strauss & Co is honoured to present a further selection of furniture, ceramics and paintings from this discerning collection. Three of the English furniture pieces from this collection bear the plaque of highly reputable London dealer Norman Adams Ltd, notably a William and Mary walnut bureau dated c. 1690 (est. R70 000 – 90 000). Strauss & Co is privileged to be offering a concise selection of English furniture, writing accessories and decorative items from the estate of respected Cape Town antique dealer David Porter (1938–2012).

Four of the five most valuable artworks in the catalogue for the April live auction are by Irma Stern, whose colour-drenched work continues to attract new audiences. The Stern offering includes three flower studies made between 1940 and 1964. The earliest, Still Life with Camellias (est. R3–4 million), is a tantalising confection of reds and leads a strong still life focus in the culminating session on 6 April. Other notable still lifes in this session include works by Walter Battiss, Freida Lock, Frans Oerder, Jody Paulsen, JH Pierneef, Cecil Skotnes and Jean Welz,” Strauss &Co. Added.

Stern’s portraits are her most prized works. Dakar Woman (est. R7–9 million), made in 1938, depicts a Senegalese woman in evocative detail. This masterful work will be presented in a focussed session titled “Figuration: Past and Present”. The session gathers a diverse selection of pieces by, among others, Deborah Bell, Norman Catherine, Robert Hodgins, Dorothy Kay, Sydney Kumalo, Nelson Makamo, Alexis Preller and Gerard Sekoto. Highlights include Maggie Laubser’s Portrait of a Woman wearing a Sari against a Floral Background (est. R800 000 – 1,2 million), which illustrates the cover of the print catalogue. This important session builds on themes from our non-selling exhibition Giving Direction: Figuration, Past and Present, held in February 2022 at Welgemeend during the vibrant art week that coincided with the Investec Cape Town Art Fair.

“I am especially delighted that Strauss & Co is handling ten works by Alexis Preller from the CobaDiederiks Collection, as well as a consignment of rare jewelry pieces inspired by Preller’s forms and owned by Diederiks,” says Bina Genovese. “The paintings include a study of a lobster gifted by the artist to Diederiks when she married in 1968. The important torso study Gold Kouros (est. R2–3 million) was made in 1969 following a trip to Greece. It incorporates an intaglio technique imparted to the artist by Coba’s husband, Hennie, who subsequently acquired Gold Kouros in part payment for this technical advice.”

There is also a philanthropic aspect to this particular sale.

“Strauss & Co is proud to lend support to the Cape Town Opera and Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra in the form of an album featuring recordings of silent versions of some of these two artistic companies’ greatest works, together with a photolithographic print by artist William Kentridge (est. R50 000 – 70 000). All proceeds from the sale of this combined lot will be donated to the Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera via the Duet Endowment Trust,” the company said.

Specialists from Strauss & Co will lead various educational engagements, both at Brickfield Canvas and online.On Thursday 31 March, at 11am, Mia Borman and Leigh Leyde, co-curators of a focused session on figuration will present an in-person walkabout. Leyde will also host a webinar at 6pm, exploring the figure in works by Laubser, Pemba, Sekoto and Stern.On Friday, 1 April, at 10am, Vanessa Phillips and Sophie-Louise Fröhlich, from the decorative arts department, will conduct an in-person walkabout highlighting notable decorative arts pieces. At 11am, on the same day,senior art specialist Matthew Partridge will conduct an in-person lecture titled “Portraiture: Pictures that Breathe”.

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