Strauss &Co.’s Johannesburg art sale nets R43 million, including a spectacular showing by William Kentridge’s dancing couple piece

By CityLife Arts Writer

Collector interest in works on paper by William Kentridge, notably two early drawings from the 1980s, saw Strauss & Co post a string of solid results for this renowned artist. These impressive results followed  the conclusion of Johannesburg Auction Week, which ended on 17 May 2022. 

Held over three days and encompassing four sessions featuring fine wine and modern, post-war and contemporary art, Strauss & Co’s marquee live virtual auction in Johannesburg earned a combined total of R43 million. Trading was brisk, with the bulk of work on sale trading within pre-sale estimates, a reassuring sign. 

The ten best-performing individual artworks sold included three works on paper by Kentridge, two flower paintings by Vladimir Tretchikoff, as well as signature pieces by auctions stalwarts Maggie Laubser, JH Pierneef, Alexis Preller, Irma Stern and Anton van Wouw. 

All 10 works sold for more than R1 million, attesting to sustained demand for quality work. There was also competitive bidding for important works by Jake Aikman, Peter Clarke, Josephine Ghesa, Robert Hodgins, Moshekwa Langa and Caryn Scrimgeour. A generous portion of the artworks sold went to new buyers.

“I am delighted by the outcome of Johannesburg Auction Week,” says Frank Kilbourn, Strauss & Co’s executive chairperson. “We successfully found buyers for anchor works by Keith Alexander, William Kentridge and Anton van Wouw, whose important bronze Slegte Nuus sold for R3.4 million. The wine department continues to deliver excellent results and yielded especially solid returns for five lots of the rare GS Cabernet. Works on paper really shined. There was a genuine charge in the auction room when we offered three lots of the now-rare Little Morals print portfolios by William Kentridge, Deborah Bell and Robert Hodgins. I was pleased to note that the majority of our bidders are aged between 40 and 59.”

William Kentridge’s The Highveld Style Masked Ball, a 1988 drawing of a dancing couple commissioned for a charity event, topped the rankings of Johannesburg Auction Week. Offered in a specialist session devoted to Surrealism and its influence on South African art and artists, the Kentridge drawing sold after 13 bids to an online bidder for R3.6 million. Other notable sales in the Surrealism session included Alexis Preller’s Birth of Venus (1965), a large abstract interpretation of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (1486), sold for R1.6 million, and Keith Alexander’s landscape with ruined building titled Last Light (1990), sold for R682 800.

“The Surrealism session was an important statement of intent,” says Susie Goodman, an executive director at Strauss & Co. “We delivered a credible sale grounded in a contemporary theme to an international standard. I firmly believe that it is our role to contextualise the history of art in South Africa and expand commentary on our art and artists to a global market.” 

The art offering in Johannesburg Auction Week commenced with a watercolour lot by Walter Battiss titled Cook’s Bay, Moorea, Tahiti. The undated work was exhibited at the Pretoria Art Museum in 1979 and sold for a handsome R233 290. Bidding was robust throughout the three art sessions, with strong demand also noted for Georgina Gratrix, Nelson Makamo and Diane Victor. Noteworthy sculpture lots traded were Sydney Kumalo’s Head Leaning on Arm, sold for R432 440, and a maquette for Dylan Lewis’s Leopard and Guineafowl, sold for R637 280. 

It was however Kentridge who yielded consistently strong results throughout the sale. All but one of the 13 Kentridge works offered in Johannesburg Auction Week found buyers. They included a 1985 drawing titled Toying with an Intrinsicate Knot, sold for R1.7 million, and the 1993 etching Head (Orange), sold for R1.3 million. A monoprint from 1979 titled Pyramus and Thisbe, from the Pit Series, saw fierce bidding between online and room bidders, and sold for twice the high estimate at R512 100. 

Kentridge has surpassed Maggie Laubser in Strauss & Co’s tally of overall best-selling artists at auction, and now ranks fourth after Irma Stern, JH Pierneef and Alexis Preller. Other notable Kentridge sales included the R569 000 achieved for a suite of eight prints from the Little Morals series (1990). Strauss & Co also offered complete sets of the Little Morals print series by Robert Hodgins and Deborah Bell, sold for R398 300 and R204 840 respectively. Interest in Bell and Hodgins was strong. Bell’s watercolour and pastel titled Memory of Silk: Crossing (2007) sold above estimate for R318 640. Hodgins’ multi-part painting A Difficult Meeting of the Board (2007/09) sold for R546 240

“We were delighted to have hundreds people come and view works at our preview exhibition, which was a pleasure after two years of social isolation,” says Alastair Meredith, head of Strauss & Co’s art department. “Our focus on Surrealism enabled us to show an astonishing range of works that suggested new relationships between artists not typically associated with one another.”

Meredith knocked down Lesotho-born Josephine Ghesa’s ceramic titled Torso with Animal, which sold after 20 bids for R56 900 in the Surrealism session. He also handled Caryn Scrimgeour’s Charades, a top-down view on a table setting, which sold to a late online bidder for R250 360 after 16 bids. Among the lesser-priced gems to find buyers in the culminating evening session was an undated harvest scene by Cecily Sash, sold for R56 900.

Works with a harvest theme did exceptionally well. Maggie Laubser’s Harvesting, Oortmanspost, Klipheuwel Stasie from 1940 sold for R1.14 million. Irma Stern’s Harvest Workers, Ceres (Pay Day) from 1949 achieved R2.05 million. Strauss & Co will host a boutique single-artist sale of 140 works from the Irma Stern Trust Collection and other private properties at Welgemeend Manor House in Cape Town.

Please share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.