Irma Stern’s Three African Women (estimate R4 – 5 million) is a tightly framed study of a trio of amaMfengu (or Fingo) women that the artist likely encountered during her 1941 trip to the Eastern Cape. Still Life with Lilies (estimate R6 – 8 million) features a favourite flower displayed in a Chinese storage jar possibly acquired in Zanzibar. Stern frequently shuttled between South Africa and Europe by boat and developed a lifelong interest in the traditions and labours of seafaring cultures, as is evidenced in her beach composition The Yellow Hat (estimate R5 – 6 million).
Like Stern and Pierneef, Alexis Preller also travelled extensively, notably to the Belgian Congo and the Seychelles. Preller’s two oils depicting traditional Mapogga (Southern Ndebele) women in this sale – Grand Mapogga II (estimate R4.8 – 5 million) and Mapogga Terrace (estimate R3.8 – 5 million) – relate to a subject far closer to home. In the mid-1930s, after an encounter with a group of Mapogga women in Pretoria, Preller became fascinated with their culture and over time the Mapogga became one of the most iconic and spellbinding motifs in the artist’s enigmatic body of work.
In contrast to Preller and Stern’s portraiture, many South African artists preferred the genre of landscape to record their experiences of place and people. One of the 17 lots from the Late Toy Mostert Collection, which reflects the eclectic and ranging tastes of this popular sports journalist turned empowerment entrepreneur, is John Koenakeefe Mohl’s An Evening on the Vaal River, near Vereeniging (estimate R30 000 – 50 000). Mohl, like Pierneef, was a recorder of atmosphere. The sun has just descended behind the distant hills in his composition, and the sky is aglow with rosy pinks and acid yellows that are reflected in the shimmering surface of the Vaal River.
While the southern African subcontinent dominates as subject and inspiration for the majority of the works on offer, South African artists have long been internationalists. This is evident in Maud Sumner’s two watercolours of Battersea Bridge in London (estimate R25 000 – 35 000 each), Walter Battiss’s watercolour of the harbour at Heraklion, Crete (estimate R50 000 – 70 000) and Irma Stern’s late oil, Repairing Fishing Nets on the Quay (estimate R1.2 – 1.6 million), which was likely made in the Spanish port city of Alicante.
William Kentridge’s Untitled Drawing Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (estimate R5 – 6 million) depicts the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. The drawing was one of roughly 40 drawings Kentridge made for the very first opera he directed, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse, commissioned by the organisers of the Kunsten Festival des Arts in Brussels in 1998.
“The range and breadth of the places portrayed by artists in our May catalogue is astonishing,” says Susie Goodman, an executive director at Strauss & Co. “Besides Hugo Naudé’s gorgeous riverine study of Port St Johns and various otherworldly Namibian landscapes by Keith Alexander, Adolph Jentsch and Maud Sumner, John Meyer’s remarkable photorealist rendering of the eastern Free State landscape near Golden Gate is another highlight. All the works on offer are an invitation to travel with the eye, and to be replenished in the process.”
Strauss & Co’s virtual live auction starts on Sunday 16 May with a collection of fine French wines and continues with three sessions of modern, post-war and contemporary art on Monday 17 and Tuesday 18 May, 2021. DM/ML
For more information, contact Strauss & Co at [email protected] or go to www.straussart.co.za