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Strauss & Co sale includes important artworks by African moderns
Irma Stern, Still Life with Fruit and Dahlias, oil on canvas, 85 by 95cm. Estimate: R 12 000 000 - 15 000 000.

JOHANNESBURG.- Strauss & Co, the world’s foremost auction house for South African art, announced details of its forthcoming Johannesburg sale at the Wanderers Club on 20 May. Following shortly on the company’s recording-breaking R106-million sale in Cape Town, this offering includes important artworks by moderns Alexis Preller, Irma Stern and Anton van Wouw, as well as contemporaries William Kentridge, Penny Siopis and Athi-Patra Ruga.

A dedicated supporter of further education in art, having in 2018 established a bursary for postgraduate study, Strauss & Co is delighted to be offering works by Anton van Wouw representing the cutting-edge of new research. Recent scholarship by Gerhard de Kamper, chief curator of collections at the University of Pretoria, has revealed that Van Wouw worked with five Roman foundries, not three as was long thought. The Strauss & Co bursary will be awarded to a post-graduate student to pursue this line of research.

The forthcoming sale includes castings from five different foundries used by Van Wouw, including the previously unknown Buongirolami foundry for his bust of statesman Louis Botha (estimate R200 000 – 300 000). But the undisputed high-light is a full-length bronze maquette of the larger Church Square (Pretoria) sculpture depicting Paul Kruger (estimate R2.2 – 3.2 million), produced by the Nisini foundry and previously owned by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, who gifted it to the Rand Club, the consignor.

Van Wouw’s Kruger bronze is among the sale’s top-five lots by value, ranking alongside a rare mosaic by Alexis Preller and three paintings, including a magnificent still-life by Irma Stern, South Africa’s leading artist at auction.

Great anticipation surrounds the offering of Alexis Preller’s only known mosaic, a pristine work depicting five towering figures (estimate R6 – 8 million) that was originally installed at a private home in Waterkloof, Pretoria. The forthcoming sale also includes exquisite smaller paintings, such as A Box of Mangoes (estimate R300 000 – 400 000), and homoerotic student work Two Male Nudes (estimate R250 000 – 400 000) from 1934.

Flowers were a staple of Stern’s valued output, her floral still lifes functioning both as a source of painterly innovation and personal delight. Dated 1946, Still Life with Fruit and Dahlias (estimate R12 – 15 million) was produced after Stern’s second visit to Zanzibar in 1945 and portrays a generous bouquet of dahlias in a partially glazed Chinese martaban jar, dramatically presented in a Zanzibari frame with carved flower motifs. Still Life with Basket of Flowers (estimate R4.5 – 6 million) from 1937 records Stern’s fluent use of colour and innovative paint techniques within a nominally constraining genre.

In February, Strauss & Co established a new benchmark when it sold a vibrant photograph by multimedia artist Athi-Patra Ruga for R1.7 million. The forthcoming sale includes an early tapestry by Ruga, Ilulwane … he’s not one of youz (estimate R200 000 – 300 000), produced shortly after his breakout textiles inspired by Irma Stern.

Other notable contemporary artists with works on this sale are Deborah Bell, Zander Blom, Willem Boshoff, Georgina Gratrix, Moshekwa Langa and – cresting high following his work’s appearance on the cover of Time magazine – Nelson Makamo, whose 2014 charcoal drawing Power over Love (estimate R150 000 – 200 000) is a fine example of his pathos-infused work.

Two early works by William Kentridge, South Africa’s most acclaimed contemporary artist, will undoubtedly attract strong bidding: Untitled: Man, Woman and Warthog (estimate R1.8 – 2.5 million) from 1985, and the triptych Art in a State of Grace, Hope and Siege (estimate R1.2 –1.6 million) from 1988 – the latter screenprints are rarely offered as a complete set.

The forthcoming sale includes a soft focus on artists who were or are still educators, with works by prominent teachers such as Bill Ainslie, Karel Nel, Cecil Skotnes and Penny Siopis. Cake: Treats (estimate R400 000 – 600 000) is an early “cake” painting by Siopis made in 1982, when she was still teaching art in Durban, while Nel’s Presence: Leaf Shrine, North Island, Seychelles (estimate R400 000 – 600 000) from 2014 dates from his last years at Wits University, where he taught alongside Siopis.

Bill Ainslie is well known for championing abstract expressionism in South Africa, and smart collectors with a keen sense of art history will appreciate his untitled two-metre wide mixed media on canvas (estimate R80 000 – 120 000). Ainslie is notable for having taught both Kentridge and Sam Nhlengethwa, whose Abstract with Yellow Triangle (R200 000 – 300 000) reveals the influence of his participation in the Thupelo series of artist workshops organized by Ainslie and David loane.

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