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Johannesburg Auction Week features two masterpieces of mid-century SA painting

Strauss & Co is pleased to announce details of Johannesburg Auction Week, a vibrant programme of curated sales exploring a century of change in South African art. The forthcoming three-day live virtual sale (7–9 November 2021) features two highly important paintings by JH Pierneef and Alexis Preller, exceptional works on paper by contemporary master William Kentridge, as well as five paintings by Vladimir Tretchikoff. Johannesburg Auction Week also includes an 18-lot mini-session exploring the persuasive influence of classical African Art and early European Modernism on post-war South African artists.

“Johannesburg Auction Week is the culminating live sale in Strauss & Co’s programme for 2021 and an important statement of intent,” says Susie Goodman, Strauss & Co executive director. “This tent-pole event includes two spellbinding pictures from the 1950s: JH Pierneef’s late-career masterpiece Bushveld, Pafuri, from 1952, and Alexis Preller’s seminal Adam and Eve, painted in 1955. It is a privilege for Strauss & Co to be handling these important works made at a transitory moment in South African art history when the influence of Africa loomed large in the creative imagination.”

Painted five years before Pierneef’s passing, Bushveld, Pafuri portrays a scene from the north-eastern reaches of South Africa, in the leafy floodplains near the meeting of South Africa with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. This remarkable work, which balances decorative complexity and powerful verticality with riotous colour, leads to an impressive consignment of 15 Pierneef lots. These lots include three linocuts, one watercolour and a striking trove of 11 oils.

Noteworthy oils include the pastel-hued composition Mountain Landscape near Clarens and atmospheric Rainclouds over the Mountains, Hangklip between Stutterheim and Queenstown, Eastern Cape. Doring Boom (Thorn Tree) captures Pierneef working with an autumn palette, while Pienaarsrivier depicts one of the artist’s favourite haunts.

These four works will be offered with Pierneef’s show-stopping Bushveld, Pafuri in Strauss & Co’s premier session on Monday, 8 November 2021. This catalogue session also includes lots by important Thirties Generation pioneers John Koenakeefe Mohl, George Pemba and Gerard Sekoto, as well as an in-session focus on how classical African art and Modernist painting directly impacted South Africa art in the years after 1945.

Lavishly illustrated and contextualised in the print catalogue, this in-session focus will feature paintings and sculptures by, among others, Walter Battiss, Sydney Kumalo, Alexis Preller, Lucas Sithole, Cyprian Shilakoe, Cecil Skotnes and Edoardo Villa. Highlights include mask forms by Sithole and Villa, incised panels by Skotnes and two figural compositions by Kumalo, notably Mythological Rider. The highlight is undoubtedly Preller’s large oil Adam and Eve.

“Alexis Preller’s Adam and Eve is one of the artist’s mid-career masterpieces,” says Alastair Meredith, a senior art specialist and head of Strauss & Co’s art department. “Monumental and lyrical, rich and gorgeously coloured, timeless yet jaw-droppingly unique, symbolically loaded and joyously intricate, the painting is a beautiful snapshot from Preller’s very personal vision of Africa.”

Strauss & Co is pleased to present five paintings by Vladimir Tretchikoff, one of the most popular and financially successful artists in the world during his heyday from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s. Red Lilies (Amaryllis) and The Tropical Flower, both from the later 1940s, form part of a consignment of four flower studies and one figure work. The graceful Ballerina showcases the painter’s striking aptitude for colour and fine sense for form.

Johannesburg Auction Week commences on Sunday, 7 November 2021 with a session presented by Strauss & Co’s flourishing wine department, and is followed on the same day by two sessions presented by the art department. There is a strong focus on contemporary art in these sessions. The photography selection includes works by David Goldblatt, Zanele Muholi and Mikhael Subotzky. Notable sculptors represented include Willem Boshoff, Wim Botha, Frances Goodman, Chris Soal and Angus Taylor. Lisa Brice, who is currently included in an important painting showcase at London’s Hayward Gallery, has an early 1990s work in the catalogue too.

William Kentridge’s charcoal and red conté Drawing from Other Faces (Drive-In Screen), from the artist’s 2011 stop-motion film Other Faces, leads the contemporary drawing selection. Also by Kentridge, Anamorphic Drawing (Telephone) is a remarkable example of the artist’s experimental use of perspective and reflection. Diane Victor’s charcoal and chalk triptych Nastagio Degli Onesti and the Difficult Decision is a virtuoso work of classical ambition. Sam Nhlengethwa’s 1992 charcoal It Left Him Cold quotes an important earlier collage depicting murdered activist Steve Biko.

Johannesburg Auction Week concludes on Tuesday, 9 November 2021 with two sessions devoted respectively to the ceramic sculpture of Hylton Nel and Nico Masemola, and the property of a single-owner collector. Nel, a renowned ceramicist based in Calitzdorp, is an influential mentor of a new generation of talent. Masemola, a former apprentice of Nel’s, died in 2015. He was one of the most talked about artists in Strauss & Co’s successful ceramics showcase in November 2020. Professor Jan K Coetzee is a respected collector and well-known participant in South African intellectual life. In 2019 he launched his debut monograph, Books & Bones & Other Things, with an exhibition of his work at Everard Read Circa Gallery.

Strauss & Co will preview works in Johannesburg Auction Week at its dedicated exhibition space at 89 Central Street, Houghton, Johannesburg. Covid-19 regulations apply. Johannesburg Auction Week will commence at 10am on Sunday, 7 November and conclude at 7pm on Tuesday, 9 November 2021. DM/ML



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