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Modern and contemporary art steals the show at Strauss & Co’s June sale

Strauss & Co’s June sale which takes place in Johannesburg on 1 June 2015 showcases many exciting works of art by South African and international artists of stature. These include Kees van Dongen, Alexander Calder, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Irma Stern, JH Pierneef, William Kentridge, Jane Alexander, Robert Hodgins, Penny Siopis, Deborah Bell, Walter Oltman and Athi-Patra Ruga.

The top lot of Strauss & Co’s June sale is the sumptuous Still Life with Roses (estimate R4 000 000-R6 000 000) by Irma Stern, South Africa’s foremost artist and one of the top-selling female artists of all time. Executed in 1952, all the aspects of her painting for which she is most admired are present in this work: thick, impasto paint, assured use of colour and tone, strong compositional elements, and her characteristic Expressionist gestural mark-making that positioned her firmly at the helm of the South African avant-garde of the mid-20th century. Zanzibari Street Scene (estimate R800 000 – R1 200 000) is an outstanding example from her vast oeuvre of gouache and watercolour and was painted in Zanzibar during what is considered her best period.

Of the eight works on auction at Strauss & Co’s June sale by JH Pierneef, Die Wolk, Naby Winburg, O.V.S.(estimate R600 000- R900 000) is outstanding. Cloud formations were an abiding interest for Pierneef. As PG Nel puts it “his mystic towers and castles in the air above the landscape are almost legends in themselves … They hover over the veld like mountains and bring a dramatic tension to static scenes”. Another highlight by the artist is Farmlands, Free State (estimate R500 000 – R800 000) which comprises his iconic pictorial elements – cloud formations, mountains and trees, and is punctuated with a farmhouse in the central foreground. Rare in this respect as indications of human life are rarely present in Pierneef’s paintings. Adolph Jentsch’s quietly contemplative South West African Landscape (estimate 300 000 – 400 000) will appeal to collectors for its quality and scale. After a devastating fire in the artists’ studio very few of his oil paintings survived and it is rare for an oil of this quality to come onto the market.

Zulu Maiden (estimate R1 800 000-2 400 000), a classic example of Vladimir Tretchikoff’s work – exotic, idealised and sultry, was painted when he was at the height of his artistic powers and had firmly established himself as a popular artist both locally and internationally. Recently, a very similar portrait sold at Strauss & Co for R3 183 040. An early, large-scale, bright and colourful work by Gregoire Boonzaier, Bo-Kaap, Overlooking Table Bay (estimate R1 000 000-1 200 000), captures the mood and atmosphere of the vibrant Cape Town community in the mid-twentieth century.

Dutch artist Kees van Dongen, one of the leading avant-garde artists of the 20th century, heads the international section with a compelling portrait of his beloved daughter. Dolly au collier d’argent (estimate R3 500 000 -R4 500 000) embodies the artist’s love of colour and exudes an air of luminosity. The brilliant colour and expressive brushwork situate this work on the cusp of Fauvism and the Expressionism of his later works, developed after he was sought out by and joined the ranks of Die Brücke, gaining considerable fame in Germany.

Celebrated American sculptor, precursor of kinetic art and originator of the mobile, Alexander Calder is represented by a gouache painting entitled Spiral (estimate R1 200 000-1 600 000) which comprises only black, white, red and a hint of blue. According to the artist, ‘I have chiefly limited myself to the use of black and white as being the most disparate colours. Red is the colour most opposed to both of these – and then, finally, the other primaries. The secondary colours and intermediate shades serve only to confuse and muddle the distinctness and clarity’. Works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Francis Bacon and Victor Vasarely also feature in the sale.

Following Strauss & Co’s record-breaking sale of the Harry Lits Collection of Works by the Amadlozi Group, this sale features an important wood panel triptych by Cecil Skotnes, Abstract Heads (estimate R800 000-1 200 000). Sydney Kumalo’s Stalking Leopard (estimate R400 00-600 000) is a prime example of his animal studies which were a hallmark of his prodigious output. A number of large-scale sculptures by Edoardo Villa who, according to Esmé Berman, transformed the way in which South Africans perceive sculpture, are also on offer.

Unique works by William Kentridge are attracting serious collectors to Strauss & Co’s June sale. Shrouded Figure in a Landscape [Taking in the Landscape] (estimate R2 000 000-R3 000 000) is a large-scale drawing which explores themes of work and mass communication in the context of Highveld landscapes which Kentridge began rendering in charcoal and pastel in the late 1980s and includes numerous familiar images such as the man in the dinner suit and bowtie, the blank billboard and the draped figure in the foreground.

One of the most highly regarded artists in South Africa, Jane Alexander won the prestigious Standard Bank Award the year after Serviceman (estimate R600 000-900 000) was produced. Described in the accompanying catalogue by Ivor Powell as ‘a creature of utility’, this rare work presents a life-size, wide-eyed adolescent dressed in worker’s clothing. ‘Serviceman transcends its reference, creating a universalising image of the human emptied of humanity that is memorable and chilling’, says Powell.

Caterpillar Suit II (estimate R120 000 -160 000) by one of South Africa’s leading sculptors, Walter Oltmann, incorporates African weaving traditions often alluding to insects and denoting his interest in the interface between humans and animals. Cake: Truffles (estimate R60 000-R90 000) by Penny Siopis is a fine example of the highly sought after Cake Paintings which were such a formative development in the evolution of her oeuvre, and form an integral part of her retrospective which opened at the South African National Gallery and is currently on view at the Wits Art Museum.

The eight works in Strauss & Co’s June sale by Robert Hodgins are headlined by A Cosy Covern in Suburbia (estimate R600 000-R900 000) and represent a significant cross-section of his stylistic development which spanned the early 1980s through to his death in 2010. Although he had exhibited steadily for thirty years, it was only after his retirement from teaching that Hodgins’ career as an artist soared, leading to the stellar status he enjoys today. Strauss & Co holds the top 12 consecutive records for Hodgins, most recently R2,6 million which was achieved for the painting J’accuse.

Drawing attention to the seminal role played by Walter Battiss, Ruarc Peffers, Senior Art Specialist at Strauss & Co, idenifies Untitled (estimate R400 000-600 000) as a timeless and iconic example of late 20th century South African abstraction, incorporating a broad spectrum of contemporary, popular culture and high-art influences from around the world. Between the time his brush first touched this canvas and the last, it was painted over a decade during which Walter Battiss had literally toured the world while becoming increasingly cosmopolitan, informed and mature as an artist. This delightful work is infused with vibrancy and charm and displays the technical skill and whimsical subject matter that have made Battiss one of the most popular artists at auction today. Another notable work by Battiss is A Crowd (estimate R180 000-240 000). Serried rows of African people engaged in various activities – carrying, collecting, chatting – are gathered across a surface of coloured planes. The even distribution of figures across the picture plane owes much to Battiss’s pioneering research into San rock art paintings.

Norman Catherine, a collaborator in Battiss’s Fook Island fantasies, elaborates his visual trademarks that include dark comical forms rendered in brash cartoon colours. His distinctive vision – a combination of cynicism and exuberant humour – and his innovative use of everyday material, have secured his unique place in South African art. Two highlights found in Strauss & Co’s June sale include Members Only (estimate R250 000-350 000) and Totem (estimate R100 000-150 000).

Deborah Bell’s four Sentinal figures (estimate R300 000-500 000), monumental sculptures reminiscent of stylised Gothic figures carved out of medieval cathedral columns, evoke a sense of peace, permanence and calm. ‘When I was carving, the sculptures revealed themselves much in the way that Michelangelo described; it was like I was removing the extraneous to find the essence – going inwards,’ recalls Bell.

Works by South African born Mustafa Maluka, who now lives in Germany, rarely come up for auction. His large Pop portraits of stylish young men and women of indeterminate race and nationality, resembling oversized passport or ID photos, are fictional portrayals of today’s global youth. The Dirt is So Hard to Breath (estimate R120 000-R180 000) is a good example which should attract competitive bidding.

Athi-Patra Ruga’s colourful hand-woven tapestry, Dancing Figure (estimate R50 000-R80 000), is set to stir up much interest at Strauss & Co’s June sale. Famous for his use of performance, video, textiles, and printmaking to explore notions of utopia and dystopia, material and memory, Ruga was recently included in the Phaidon book ‘Younger Than Jesus,’ a directory of over 500 of the world’s best artists under the age of 33. In July 2014 he was commissioned by Louis Vuitton to create a large-scale tapestry for their flagship store in Paris and recently created a flurry of intrigue and excitement following his performance at the 2015 Venice Biennale.


Strauss & Co’s June Sale

Important South African and International Art
Johannesburg, Monday 1 June 2015

The Wanderers Club, Illovo

Ballroom, 21 North Street, Illovo, Johannesburg
GPS Co-ordinates: S 26 08.123 E 28 03.454

On View
Friday 29 May to Sunday 31 May from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Sunday 31 May at 11am

011 728 8246 | | 079 407 5140


Image Captions

Lot 211

Kees van Dongen

Dutch (1877-1968)

Dolly au collier d’argent

signed; signed on the stretcher

oil on canvas

62,5 by 45cm

R 3 500 000 – R 4 500 000



William Joseph Kentridge

South African 1955 –

Shrouded Figure in a Landscape [Taking in the Landscape]

signed and dated ’90

chalk pastel and charcoal

106 by 128,5cm

R 2 000 000 – R 3 000 000   



Jane Alexander

South African 1959 –


signed, dated April 1994, inscribed with the title and ‘XIT Exhibition’ on the right back pocket; engraved with the title on a plaque adhered to the base

mixed media and plaster

height: 164,5cm, including base

R 600 000 – R 900 000   

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