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A tale of two collectors: Strauss & Co pays tribute to David Hall and Leon Strydom

A sumptuous portrait by Alexis Preller and superb collection of Linn Ware lead Strauss & Co’s offering in its forthcoming virtual live sale on Tuesday, 10 August 2021. This concise sale of works assembled by two discriminating collectors will commence with a morning session devoted to the David Hall Collection of Linn Ware, a highly collectable South African pottery mark. This will be followed by three sessions composed of works from the Professor Leon Strydom Collection, including exceptional paintings by Maggie Laubser, Stanley Pinker and Irma Stern.

Professor Leon Strydom is a well-known name in Afrikaans literary and art circles. Born in George into an art-interested family, Strydom first achieved renown as a literary scholar and award-winning poet. After retiring from academia, he returned to George, where his brother, Matthys, had established the Strydom Gallery in a family-owned furniture store in 1968. The gallery was renowned for its annual summer show.

“Throughout his life as an academic, Professor Strydom had consistently surrounded himself by art and artists,” says Matthew Partridge, a senior art specialist at Strauss & Co who catalogued the Strydom Collection. “The gallery provided him with a means to formalise this passion. He would famously drive from province to province in his bakkie, visiting artists and sourcing work for the gallery. Strydom gained a unique insight that he would later share with blossoming collectors, among them Strauss & Co’s future chairperson, Frank Kilbourn.”

Encompassing painting, sculpture, print editions, ceramics, Cape furniture, carpets and specialist books, the Strydom Collection offers an expansive survey of South African art and design. Important high-value lots include two European marine landscapes by Maggie Laubser and Irma Stern, as well as two peak-period canvases by Alexis Preller and Stanley Pinker that respectively appear on the front and rear of the catalogue.

Preller’s Herdboy (also known as Boy with a Flute, estimate R1.5 – 2 million) is dated 1962 and the highest-value individual lot on the sale. Preller’s stylized portrayal of a young man is most likely one of two works of the same title that appeared on the artist’s much-anticipated exhibition at the Pieter Wenning Gallery in Johannesburg in 1962, following a period of retreat to work on a large public commission. Pinker’s JOKO (Hoop Rolling, estimate R400 000 – 600 000) melds cubist and pop influences in a scene portraying two children in Victorian finery playing in a rural South African landscape. 

Herdboy (Boy with a Flute), Alexis Preller

Laubser’s expressive landscape Lake Garda (estimate R300 000 – 500 000) dates from a 1921 visit to this Italian lake with the son of her benefactor. The eye-catching work features bold, simple colour combinations. Stern’s Madeira Portrait (estimate R300 000 – 500 000) was painted a decade later, in 1931, during an important three-month work trip to the Portuguese enclave of Madeira. Stern’s colour-drenched study evidences her remarkable facility with gouache.

Lake Garda, Maggie Laubser

Collector David Hall devoted six decades to assembling Linn Ware, a renowned collectable linked to the emergence of an authentic South African design style after union. The output of this studio traces its origins to the opening, in 1925, of Ceramic Studio in a defunct Olifantsfontein pottery owned by Sir Thomas Cullinan. Ceramic Studio gained a reputation for its high-quality ceramic tiles, as well as household ceramics and crockery marketed as Linn Ware (also known as Linnware). The company changed its name to Linn Ware in 1942.

“The timeless beauty of work from both Ceramic Studio and Linn Ware potteries lies in their exquisite glazes and classic forms,” says Riana Heymans, a ceramics expert from the Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History and co-author of the recent book Olifantsfontein Potteries 1907-1962. Commenting on the 45 lots in the David Hall Collection of Linn Ware, Heymans adds: “In my opinion, this is a superior and representative collection, lovingly built up over a long period. I particularly appreciate the wonderful selection of coloured plates.”

The Hall Collection includes four lots, comprised of differently coloured Linn Ware plates, among them an assembled set of seven glazed dinner plates and a separate set of eleven glazed dessert plates (estimate R5 000 – 7 000 each). Staffed by trained artists, most of them women, Linn Ware excelled in producing collectable “art pottery”. The sale includes fine examples of this, such as a large celadon-glazed dish and bottle vase (estimate R10 000 – 15 000) and a large blue-and-lime-glazed vase (estimate R8 000 – 10 000). 

Strauss & Co is delighted to also be offering a lime-green-glazed vase from the 1940s bearing the Ceramic Studio stamp (estimate R6 000 – 8 000). Artists like JH Pierneef and Erich Mayer frequently visited Ceramic Studio in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In a 2006 essay, art historian Eunice Basson describes how Pierneef took a keen interest in the design of the hand-painted tiles produced by the studio for the new Johannesburg Station, and frequently visited the Olifantsfontein studio together with the station’s architect, Gordon Leith.

The Strydom Collection includes a watercolour apiece by Mayer and Pierneef. Dated 1919, Farmhouse in Landscape (estimate R10 000 – 15 000) reveals Pierneef’s sensitivities for perspective and design, while Mayer’s Wolkstudie, Barberton (estimate R2 000 – 3 000) was painted in his supremely confident hand in 1932. Other landscape artists represented in the collection include Walter Meyer and Frans Claerhout, with whom Strydom collaborated on the book Die Sonnevanger (The Catcher of the Sun, 1983). Strydom issued four books, including two poetry collections.

As an art collector and dealer, Strydom evidenced a strong interest in the human figure. The Strydom Collection includes Jean Welz’s Bathers and the Bridge (R300 000 – 500 000), a romantic evocation of leisure painted in 1954; Dorothy Kay’s study of toil in a salt store, Salt (estimate R100 000 – 150 000); a carved, incised and painted wood panel by Cecil Skotnes titled The Wake (estimate R200 000 – 300 000) that depicts a vigil; a rare oil from 1989 by Deborah Bell titled Confession (estimate R120 000 – 180 000) that portrays two lovers embracing; and Robert Hodgins’ sardonic depiction of an egg-headed schoolboy accompanying his plump mother, A Widow and her Son (estimate R120 000 – 160 000).

Madeira Portrait, Irma Stern

“Strydom would insist that a work of art must confront the viewer in order to disrupt our accepted ways of seeing, thereby forcing you to scratch beneath the surface and keep you coming back to look,” says Matthew Partridge. “His collection was also sculpturally strong, with pieces in bronze and wood by David Brown, Norman Catherine, Sydney Kumalo, Lucas Sithole, Edoardo Villa and Gavin Younge. There is also a portrait of the collector’s father, Manie Strydom, by Gerard de Leeuw. The collection is unique, a collector’s collection.” DM

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