Auction Time #1

Irma Stern has long dominated the secondary art market in South Africa as well as featuring abroad with the auction houses of Bonhams, Sotheby’s and Christies all having prodigious sales records of her work. A direct result of this success in sterling is that major lots usually find themselves heading out the country as consigners choose to cash in on the attractive dividends offered by the British pound.

Despite this, the South African auction house Strauss & Co. have managed to buck such a trend by achieving significant prices locally with the high record of R21m for Stern’s Two Arabs set in 2012. A reason is that the rigmarole for obtaining export licenses through the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) and the auctioneers premiums mean that local is increasingly lekker.

Strauss & Co’s upcoming sale on Monday at the Wanders Club in Johannesburg is seeing an altogether new trend hitting the market place with works rather being repatriated for the auction. And in another turn, the attention is not on Stern (although she is featured) but rather on an artist who for a long time has dwelt on the secondary market in her shadow: Alexis Preller.

All in there are a whopping 10 lots of Preller that will go under the hammer with perhaps the most significant being “Adam” estimated to fetch between R6.5m and R9m. Acquired from the Lidchi Gallery in 1969 by New York based collectors Ruth and Jerry Siegel, the work was thought lost by artist Karel Nel and historian Esmé Berman when they published a two volume biography on Preller in 2009.

Keeping with the repatriation trend is another artist who has been an unsung darling of the auction circuit recently; Walter Battiss. This time coming from Australia, the two large scale panels “Rock Art Composition I & II” are estimated to fetch between R1.8m and R2.2m. Altogether Battiss features on 24 lots in the November sale with works ranging from a variety of his periods.


Another highlight of the sale is works from the Hardebeck estate whose proceeds will benefit the Umamawothando Trust, a charity set up by Liselotte Hardebeck in 2009 to help disadvantaged students with post-graduate studies. Works from this collection include lots from Pieter Wenning, JH Pierneef, Walter Battiss and Douglas Portway.

Contemporary highlights include Jane Alexander’s “Somethings Going Down” which is a sculptural tableau feature four minature figures estimate to fetch between R1.2m – R1.6. Penny Siopis who has performed consistently over Strauss & Co’s previous auctions has four lots on the sale of which the highlight is “Invention de l’Hysterie” executed in 1987. Keeping with contemporary painting Deborah Poynton is featured with a diptych titled “Safety & Security” estimated at between R400 and 60k.


A series of four sculptures by Deborah Bell estimated at between R600 to R800k from her “Unearthed” series should also be a noteworthy selection for her collectors. Other sculptures that are sure to attract attention are “Reclining Female Form” by Ezrom Legae estimated at between R100 – R120k and “Had Enough” by Lucas Sithole estimated to fetch between R350 – 500k. Five lots by Eduardo Villa should also attract attention given his recent performance on the secondary market with his “Figure” estimated at between R350 – 500k.

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