Maggie Laubser’s portrait of a raffish Cape shepherd wearing two peacock feathers in his hat leads a strong selection of lots by this important expressionist painter, due to go on offer at Strauss & Co’s 16 October live sale at the Vineyard Hotel, Cape Town.
The Old Shepherd (estimate R2.8 – R3.4 million) is an important portrait from Laubser’s years of self-imposed isolation following her return from Berlin in 1924. Laubser’s innovative expressionist painting style was mercilessly persecuted in the South African press when she began exhibiting after her return home. The negative reception prompted Laubser to retreat to her family farm, Oortmanspos, outside Cape Town, where she immersed herself in portraying farm life. Among her subjects was a shepherd named Ou Booi. In 1956 interview, Laubser recalled that he was originally from Bloemfontein and wore an ostrich feather in his hat. In her portrait The Old Shepherd, Laubser amplifies this detail to offer a vivid rendering of a self-possessed man with whom the artist was familiar and held in respect. Laubser is well known for her repeated portrayal of farm labourers and animals. Cats and ducks ranked among her preferred animal subjects. A Black and White Cat Seated Amongst Flowers (estimate R800,000 – R1.2 million) is a late work portraying a cat with distinctive green eyes. The confident composition, which bears out the artist’s stated search for “harmony of colour and form,” may have been drawn from real life: Laubser owned a black cat.
Throughout her career Laubser painted birds, including flamingos and gulls at Langebaan and storks in the Free State. Much like A Black and White Cat Seated Amongst Flowers, Laubser’s Yellow Bird (estimate R500,000 – R700,000) showcases her painterly skill at integrating animal subjects into confidently described landscapes reduced to essential forms. Strauss & Co is also offering two floral studies, Still Life of Pink Flowers in a Glass Vase (estimate R300,000 – R400,000) and Still Life with Lilies in a Vase Green (estimate R120,000 – R160,000). The former work is signed and dated 1924, the year Laubser returned to South Africa from Berlin possessed of a new vision for painting. Portrait of a Girl in a Headscarf (estimate R40,000 – R60,000) is a charcoal study of a young woman and showcases Laubser’s uncomplicated graphic approach. There is, as art critic F. L. Alexander put it in 1962, a “straightforward simplicity” to Laubser’s drawings, an effortlessness that remains endearing. All these works will be on offer at Strauss & Co’s live sale at the Vineyard Hotel on Monday, 16 October. A programme of social events and educational lectures prefaces the live sale.