Growing confidence among buyers and sellers in Strauss & Co’s stable and secure trading platform launched in 2013, coupled with the rapid uptake of digital transacting during the Covid-19 pandemic, saw the company sell 3 130 items (70% lot sell-through rate) in its seven online sales last year. The increased confidence in buying collectables sight unseen resulted in a noticeable increase in the value of individual lots sold online.
Nelson Makamo twice topped the online auction tables in 2020, his popular figure-based works on paper breezing past the R200 000 mark. This sale includes a number of lots by Makamo, including a 2009 charcoal and pastel titled Figure with Pink Sunglasses (estimate R120 000 – 180 000) and a 2012 monotype, Woman with Glasses (estimate R80 000 – 120 000).
Walter Battiss who also recognised the democratic appeal of works on paper is represented by a pencil drawing titled Picasso gives Walter Battiss a Lithograph (estimate R50 000 – 70 000) which records an event from Battiss’s time in Paris in 1949 where, after gifting Picasso a copy of his book The Artists of the Rocks (1948) he became a regular guest at his studio. On one of these visits Picasso gifted Battiss a graphic depicting a bull – the event is recorded in the drawing on offer.
“He was a very fast worker, very prolific,” recalled Battiss in a 1981 interview of this pivotal encounter. “He could paint in two or three styles in a day. He influenced me that way, to have many different ways of presenting art.” Notable Battiss paintings include the double-sided work Abstract Composition/ Abstract Figure (R50 000 – 70 000). Battiss is credited with exhibiting the first abstract paintings in South Africa – in 1937 in Pretoria under the pseudonym Gregi Nola.
The sale includes a number of abstract paintings by key proponents, including Christo Coetzee (Homage to Michel Tapié de Céleyran, R15 000 – 20 000), Larry Scully (Red Abstract, R18 000 – 24 000), Fred Schimmel (Abstract #1080, R40 000 – 60 000) and Olaf Bisschoff (R25 000 – 35 000 each).
Works by three important later 20th century painters – Robert Hodgins, Douglas Portway and Andrew Verster – whose work heralded the transition from modernism to contemporary practice include: Hodgins’s The Death of Danton: Final Act (R100 000 – 150 000) portrait of the French revolutionary leader Georges Danton, whose death by guillotine inspired Georg Büchner’s first play from 1835; Portway’s large and ethereal abstract from 1966 (R50 000 – 70 000) which dates from his peak period when, as he explained in a 1972 letter to the Tate Gallery, and Verster’s Bodyworks 5 (R120 000 – 160 000), a late work from 2006 and alloys a bold palette to a striking figural subject.
Notable contemporary painters include Georgina Gratrix, Ian Grose and Richard Mudariki. Gratrix is the subject of a mid-career survey at the Norval Foundation, now on display, and is represented by two gouaches from 2014 (R20 000 – 30 000 each). Mudariki, who has recently exhibited in Paris and Milan, is represented by a 2012 work, Brigadier General (R8 000 – 12 000).
The exciting sculpture offering is led by noteworthy modernist lots including Lucas Sithole’s 1993 carved wood study of a crouching Cat Figure (R20 000 – 30 000) and Edoardo Villa’s Abstract Plaque from 1964 (R15 000 – 20 000). Julius Mfethe’s five-part carved tableaux Ploughman and Oxen (R40 000 – 60 000) offers a masterclass in assiduous detailing. The sale also includes two smaller Mfethe lots: Milking the Cow and Man with a Basket, Donkey and Goat (R30 000 – 50 000 each).
In 2020, Strauss & Co introduced a session spotlighting contemporary South African ceramics. The February ceramics offering is led by American artist Jeff Koons’ popular collectable ceramic multiple, Blue Balloon Dog from 2002 (R150 000 – 200 000).
Standout decorative arts highlights include an array of wonderful silver pieces to suit any pocket and home. Amongst the top lots is a William IV silver three-piece tea service, Robert Makepiece & Richard Sibley, London, 1833-1835 (R18 000 – 20 000) and a Victorian silver basket and cover, Joseph Angell & John Angell, London, 1845 (R5 000 – 7 000) with blue-glass liner – which were popular wedding gifts during the Victorian era, often engraved with whimsical inscriptions to mark a new beginning for the happy couple.
Strauss & Co’s wine department kicks off 2021 with a selection of South African and international Rhône wines. Expect some rare and collectible vintage references along with more accessible, ready-to-be-enjoyed wines.
Bidding for lots in Strauss & Co’s category-rich February sale is now open and concludes on Monday, 22 February at 8pm. DM/ML
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