Strauss & Co to offer a private collection of artworks and jewellery that highlight the genius of Alexis Preller

By CityLife Arts Writer

Strauss & Co is presenting the Coba Diederiks Collection of 11 magnificent artworks by Alexis Preller as part of its consignment of Modern, Post-war and Contemporary art due to go on sale on Wednesday, 6 April 2022. Presented as a dedicated single-owner collection within the proceedings of the culminating evening session, the Coba Diederiks Collection includes highly collectable paintings by one of South Africa’s most admired and accomplished artists of the twentieth-century, as well as ten jewellery pieces inspired by the work of Preller.

The 11 artworks in the Coba Diederiks Collection map aspects of Preller’s glorious output between 1950 and 1973. The undoubted highlight from this private art collection is Gold Kouros (estimate R2 – 3 million), an oil and goldleaf panel depicting a male torso. The work was made in 1969, shortly after Preller’s hugely influential trip to Greece a year earlier, and incorporates intaglio marks typical of the artist’s later works. Preller learnt this method of incising his surfaces from Hennie Diederiks, the late husband of Coba.

“There was something special about the relationship between Alexis and the Diederiks couple,” writes art historian Esmé Berman in her 2009 biography of the artist. She adds that the couple were he considered part of the Dombeya family, a reference to Preller’s extraordinary home and studio in the Magaliesberg north of Johannesburg.

The Coba Diederiks Collection attests to the power of friendship and collegiality in the story of great works of art. Coba Diederiks (née Van Heerden) first met Preller when she was appointed to direct and organise Preller’s solo exhibition at the South African Association of Arts Gallery in 1962. A warm friendship ensued. When Coba married Hennie in 1968, Preller gifted the newlyweds a gemlike oil depicting a lobster (estimate R100 000 – 150 000). This remarkable work from 1950 introduces this important collection.

Important pieces from the Coba Diederiks Collection include The Poet Prince (estimate R600 000 – 800 000). Dated 1973, this portrait forms part of a long line of iconic profile heads of mythical gods, kings, princes and angels. The work bears likeness to The Poet Prince, a 1975 oil sold by Strauss & Co in October 2017 for R1.8 million. The Coba Diederiks Collection also includes two dazzling examples from mid-1960s of Preller’s miniatures, The Navigator (estimate R180 000 – 240 000) and Temple, South Wind (estimate R150 000 – 200 000).

Of interest to Preller aficionados, at 10am on Tuesday, 5 April 2022, Strauss & Co’s decorative arts department will offer a wonderful consignment of ten jewellery pieces inspired by the work of Alexis Preller and manufactured by German-born goldsmith Eric Frey. Also consigned by Coba Diederiks, the items include a three-stone diamond ring (estimate R25 000 – 30 000) and brooch with green tourmalines and old European-cut diamonds (estimate R15 000 – 20 000). 

Strauss & Co is delighted to present Maya (estimate R220 000 – 250 000), an early painting by Preller consigned by a private seller. This scarlet nude was described as “a red scandal” in the press when it was first exhibited in a New Group exhibition in Pretoria in 1938. This important work will be offered on Tuesday, 5 April 2022, in an evening session exploring figuration as a powerful conceptual thread linking historical, traditional, modernist, and contemporary art in Africa. Other notable Preller lots consigned by private sellers to this sale include Egrets (estimate R350 000 – 500 000), a petite work from 1952 that was formerly owned by the Dutch ambassador to South Africa.

The Coba Diederiks Collection and related artworks by Alexis Preller are available to view at Brickfield Canvas, a creative and tech campus in Woodstock. Other highlights from Strauss & Co’s four-day marquee live virtual sale (3-6 April 2022) include four outstanding paintings by the highly collectable artist Irma Stern, three single-owner collections of English and Asian decorative arts and a themed session profiling a trio of prestigious wine producers from the Hemel-en-Aarde (“Heaven and Earth”) valley near Hermanus. 

The auction will be held over four consecutive days (3-6 April 2022) at Brickfield Canvas, a creative and tech campus in Woodstock. The auction programme for this hybrid in-person and live-streamed auction will commence on Sunday, 3 April 2022 with wine. 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.

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