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Modern & Contemporary art auction features major collectables

A major Stern painting from 1930 leads Strauss & Co’s diverse catalogue of modern and contemporary art at its May sale in Johannesburg
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 For generations of progressive South African collectors, the names Dumile Feni, Maggie Laubser, Esther Mahlangu, George Pemba, J.H. Pierneef, Alexis Preller, Gerard Sekoto, Lucas Sithole, Irma Stern, Anton van Wouw and Edoardo Villa have represented a rock-solid canon. All these collectable modernist artists, many now receiving overdue international recognition, are represented in the catalogues for Strauss & Co’s two-part Day and Evening auction of modern and contemporary art in Johannesburg on Tuesday, 28 May 2024.
 
Leading the 85-lot catalogue for the premier Evening Sale, which commences at 7pm, is Irma Stern’s paradisiacal 1930 portrait of a seated young woman, Cape Girl with Fruit (estimate on request). Made during a period of frequent travel across Southern Africa and regular exhibiting in Europe, this important, large-scale work records the early beginnings of Stern’s celebrated and sensual mature style.

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Paradise also looms large as theme in Alexis Preller’s sun-drenched beach scene, Fisherman Mending Nets, Beau Vallon (estimate R3 – 4 million / $162 780 – 217 040), from his important visit to the Seychelles in 1949. Preller, who is currently the subject of a career retrospective at Norval Foundation in Cape Town, has two works in the evening session. Stern has five, including Still Life with Amaryllis (estimate R5 – 7 million / $271 455 – 380 040), which was painted during a pause in her epic run representing South Africa at four editions of the Venice Biennale (in 1950, 52, 54 and 58).
 
“More than a decade ago, The New York Times wrote that South African avant-garde painting of the 20th century had not loomed large in the international public imagination, which was perhaps true of affairs at the turn of this century but definitely does not apply today,” says Dr Alastair Meredith, Head of Department of Fine Art, Strauss & Co. “South African modernists have in the last few years received growing recognition in international exhibitions and publications. The 2024 Venice Biennale, which features nearly a dozen of the country’s best modernists, including George Pemba, Gerard Sekoto and Irma Stern, marks a further step in the international rehabilitation of our historical artists.”

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The Evening Sale offers a representative survey of South African art, from its early beginnings with painters like Frans Oerder and Pieter Wenning, through the emergence of the black modernist canon with figures like Pemba and Sekoto, up to the vibrant present day. There are two high-value William Kentridge drawings: Preparing the Flute (estimate on request), related to his celebrated 2005 production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and a WW1 battle scene (estimate on request) from his 2002 stop-animation film Zeno Writing.
 
As always, painting features strongly in both the online Day Sale and the live-virtual Evening Sale, with notable works by Walter Battiss, Peter Clarke, Robert Hodgins, Maggie Laubser, Nelson Makamo and John Meyer. The estimate for Vladimir Tretchikoff’s striking Chrysanthemums in a Vase (estimate R1.2 – 1.6 million / $65 090 – 86 785) reflects his evergreen status at auction. George Pemba and Gerard Sekoto, who are currently enjoying premier billing at the Venice Biennale, have three and five works apiece in the Evening Sale. Pemba’s 1989 portrait, Author and Artist (estimate R200 000 – 300 000 / $10 865 – 16 300), depicts author Alan Paton. Sekoto’s works are dated 1960 to 1975, and include Mother and Child (estimate R 400 000 – 600 000 / 21 730 – 32 595) from 1971.

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Sculpture is not overlooked. The evening session includes an important Nisini foundry casting of Anton van Wouw’s bronze Slegte Nuus (estimate R3 – 4 million / $162 780 – 217 040). Contemporary sculptor Dylan Lewis has three works in the Evening Sale. The online-only  Day Sale is especially strong on sculpture and includes bronzes by Deborah Bell, Andries Botha, Guy du Toit and Herman van Nazareth. Goat Girls (estimate R150 000 – 200 000 / $8 150 – 10 865) is a collaborative work by Diane Victor and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren from their Scapegoat Series. The catalogue also includes painted wood pieces by Norman Catherine and an early work by Gerhard Marx.
 
www.straussart.co.za
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