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South African Art at Bonhams

The next South African Art Sale at Bonhams takes place 16 March in London

The auction follows the staggering £842 500 (currently ZAR 20 million) achieved by Bonhams with the sale of Irma Stern’s Arab in Black, the picture that was once used to help defray Nelson Mandela’s legal costs. The work was the most expensive South African painting sold in 2015. However, the most valuable lot in the March sale, Stern’s Swazi Youth (estimate: R4 801 200 – R7 201 800), was purchased from Stern when the previous owner visited her studio with the artist’s great friend, Roza van Gelderen. While Still life with anemones (estimate: R4 321 085 – 5 281 325) is another highlight by Irma Stern, flower painting dating to the mid-1930s.

A large and unusual composition by Stanley Pinker, Thoughts on the Té Hé Gla, Blé Gla and Gbona Gla, bears one of the highest estimates (R1 920 482 – 2 880 723). Previously in the collection of the artist, the work has never before been offered at auction. While found objects project beyond the picture frame spill into the viewer’s space, the background itself is a chequerboard of squares, providing a backdrop for the two centrally positioned protagonists. The canvas offers witty critique of modern society, whilst simultaneously challenging formal preconceptions about what a painting should and can be.

A major oil by J.H. Pierneef, Free State landscape (R1 440 360 – 2 160 542) will also be offered in March. The painting was executed in 1936 when the artist was at the height of his powers. The geometric experimentalism that characterised his works of the early 1930s had by this point settled into a more assured style. The trees in the foreground are dwarfed by the towering mountain range behind, and the sublime beauty of the South African landscape is eloquently instilled in the viewer. The painting is a celebration of nature in its purest form.

The sale will include further works by all the South African masters discussed, as well as a wide selection by other great artistic leaders such as Gerard Sekoto (1913-1993), and sculptures from the likes of Lucas Sithole (1931- 1994) and Dylan Lewis (born 1964). The strength of the South African Art market, combined with the stability of Sterling and the fall of the Rand has established London as the world center for the sale of South African art. This is further proven with the attractive selection of works up for auction on 16 March. Bonhams holds the world record prices for all major South African artists:

  • Vladimir Tretchikoff;
  • Stanley F. Pinker;
  • Jacob H. Pierneef;
  • Alexis Preller; and
  • Gerard Sekoto.

A list topped by the sale of Irma Stern’s Arab Priest for an astounding £3.1 million (currently R70 million).


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