Highlights of South African and European art from the Labia Family Trust are to be included in Strauss & Co’s auction, in Cape Town, on Monday, 15 October.
Count Natale (“Luccio”) Labia died at his Wynberg home Hawthornden in November 2016, and his heirs are now offering for sale twenty-two artworks which once hung in that house. At least one of these paintings formed part of the celebrated art collection assembled by the Count’s maternal grandfather, the “Randlord” Sir Joseph Benjamin Robinson (1840-1929).
Count Labia’s father – also named Natale – was an Italian who served with distinction in his country’s diplomatic service in South Africa. He was created a Count in 1924 and then, a year after his untimely death in 1936, a Prince. In 1921 he had married Ida, second daughter of J B Robinson.
In a move to diminish death duties Robinson had arranged for his art collection (and certain other valuables) to be held in trust by his daughters Ida and her sister Florence; and within a year of her father’s death Ida bought the entire collection for the lump sum of £50,000. When she died in 1961 the paintings were inherited jointly by her two sons Joseph (now a Prince, although he preferred not to use the title) and Luccio. Over the course of years both Joseph, who settled in Jersey, and Luccio sold many items from the Robinson collection – and sold them at a handsome profit.
Count Luccio Labia then began buying art that reflected his own discerning taste, and it is pictures from this collection that form the bulk of the artworks to be sold by Strauss & Co in October.
Highlights include a large, showy Irma Stern study of Dahlias (signed and dated 1947), bearing an estimate of R8 000 000 to R12 000 000. The painting was previously owned by the renowned art collectors Ben and Cecilia Jaffe, and it was sold to Count Labia at an auction on 24 March 1994 held by Stephan Welz & Co. in association with Sotheby’s, Cape Town. Dahlias formed part of the exhibition Irma Stern as a Flower Painter at the Irma Stern Museum, Rosebank, in February 1982; and it is illustrated in Marion Arnold’s Irma Stern: A Feast for the Eye (Fernwood Press, 1995).
Other exceptional artworks include Pieter Wenning’s The Yellow House (Bishopscourt in Winter) – with an estimate of R500 000 to R700 000.
In his DC Boonzaier en Pieter Wenning, Verslag van ’n Vriendskap (Tafelberg, 1973) J du P Scholtz describes it as follows: “It is a canvas measuring 15×11 inches and it seems to me that [Wenning’s] colour scheme has never been more beautiful, refined and harmonious…he has done nothing better.”
The painting was bought by Count Labia at an auction (Stephan Welz & Co. in association with Sotheby’s) at Mostertsdrift, Stellenbosch, in August 1996. Its previous owners were Professor JJ Smith and Dr Anna H Smith.
Amongst the British paintings, is a fine oil, Felled Trees, by Ivon Hitchens in his familiar tachiste, semi-abstract style. This, too, has an estimate of R500 000 to R700 000.
The Labia family have been generous benefactors to the arts, and their name is familiar to Capetonians through, inter alia, the popular cinema complex of that name (which originated in a conversion of the ballroom of the former Italian embassy – now called Seafare House), and the Casa Labia cultural centre in Muizenberg (once the Labia family home). The opportunity now arises to acquire important artworks that formed part of this illustrious collection. www.straussart.co.za | 021 683 6560 | firstname.lastname@example.org