The sale of rare and important paintings by Alexis Preller, some held in major collections and unseen for decades, capped a day of vigorous bidding at Strauss & Co’s summer auction in Johannesburg. This auction of important South African and international art, the last of Strauss & Co’s four annual live sales, drew a full house to the city’s illustrious Wanderers Club.
The percentage sold by value and lot combined was 80.5%, with a total realised of R55 million.
The star lots were a series of intimately scaled Prellers formerly owned by prominent Johannesburg collectors Liselotte and Walter Hardebeck. A rare Preller portrait titled Woman with Red Hair / Ophelia sold for R2 273 600 after intense bidding. The sale price was ten times the median estimate.
There was also considerable interest in The Enchanted Bull, a postcard-sized work depicting a piebald bull. UK guest auctioneer Dendy Easton sold this gorgeous work to a telephone bidder for R625 240, four times its high estimate. David, another small Preller oil from 1952 and depicting a male torso, sold for R1 114 064.
Also from the Hardebeck Collection, Preller’s Tower of Babel II, one of the last paintings he produced for his 1975 exhibition at Goodman Gallery, sold for R886 704. Archaic Sandals, a 1948 still life that last went on auction in 1979, fetched R818 496.
Proceeds of the sale of the Hardebeck Collection, which generated a total of R10,5 million in sales, will benefit an educational charity established by Liselotte Hardebeck in 2009. The residual contents of the Hardebeck home will be auctioned on a dedicated online sale from 9-14 November 2016.
Adam, Preller’s life-size rendition of the biblical first man, a work long thought lost after it was acquired by prominent New York collectors Ruth and Jerome Siegel, sold for R6 820 800. Space Angel, a 1971 oil and gesso portraying a disembodied head in aquiline profile, sold for R6 593 440, within its pre-sale estimate.
Revelation, a 1945 painting based on Preller’s experiences as a prisoner of war, saw a number of bidders express interest; it eventually sold to a telephone bidder for R2 728 320. An early Preller showing his youthful indebtedness to Van Gogh, Breying the Riems from 1935, sold for R1 705 200.
Irma Stern and JH Pierneef, artists with long-established pedigrees at auction, retained their lustre on a night dominated by Preller. An unusual Pierneef linocut of a zebra fetched R45 472, three times its high estimate, while Stern’s charcoal of Watussi Chief’s Wife fetched R852 600.
Bidding for Pierneef’s Extensive Landscape in Pink, Orange and Rose was robust; this unusual open landscape eventually sold for R704 816, doubling its high estimate. Stern’s Woman with Blue Headscarf, another treasure from the Hardebeck Collection, sold for R2 728 320.
Walter Battiss and Erik Laubscher, bellwether painters at auction, also performed well on the day. Laubscher’s Still Life with Pumpkin Slice from 1965 doubled its high estimate, selling for R932 175. There was considerable interest in Battiss’s Homage to Cavafy, which sold for R682 080, also nearly doubling its pre-sale high estimate.
Rock Art Composition II, a repatriated Battiss from Australia, fetched R2 046 240.
Nesos, a suite of 54 prints currently on view on the Battiss retrospective at the Wits Art Museum, sold for R738 920, topping the high estimate.
Robert Hodgins, another star performer at auction, delivered a solid result with Howling at the Edge of Dawn, a 1997-98 oil painting that quotes Francis Bacon. The work sold for R795 760, within its estimate.
Bidding at Strauss & Co’s much-anticipated summer auction began vigorously on a thundery afternoon. The opening lot, a 1916 watercolour by Pieter Wenning depicting the Union Buildings in Pretoria, sold for R107 996, three times its high estimate.
Another Wenning, a 1917 study of the Mozambican port city of Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), sold for R102 312, five times its high estimate. Works on paper by Pierneef and Battiss also generated considerable bidding.
Interest in a trio of small painted wood figures in red by Norman Catherine set the tone for robust sales of two dozen diminutive works by this protégé of Battiss. A series of editioned bronzes performed particularly well. Candidate, an anthropomorphic study of a waving cat smoking a cigar, fetched R90 944. All 12 Catherine sculptures sold for above their pre-sale high estimates.
Sculpture held its own against painting. There was considerable interest in a sensitive wood sculpture of a seated gorilla by Erland Windfeldt, which sold for R96 628, eight times its median estimate.
A maquette for a Dylan Lewis work titled Charging Rhino fetched R250 096 in the late afternoon sale session, setting the tone for lively bidding in the evening session. The sculpture highlight from the evening sale was a modest 68cm leopard by Lewis, which fetched R295 568.
Frank Kilbourn, Executive Chairman of Strauss & Co, commented after the auction: “We are delighted with the outcome of the sale, in particular because we raised in excess of R8 million for an educational charity at a time when access to education is a key issue in our country.
We succeeded in repatriating important works of art to South Africa and selling them to discerning local collectors, which is highly satisfying. Overall prices and sell through rates were excellent and confirm Strauss & Co as the market leader for South African art having sold R 113 million in a month.”
Top 10 lots
- 239 Alexis Preller; Adam 6 820 800
- 234 Alexis Preller; Space Angel 6 593 440
- 226 Irma Stern; Woman with Blue Headscarf 2 728 320
- 248 Alexis Preller; Revelation 2 728 320
- 249 Alexis Preller; Woman with Red Hair or Ophelia 2 273 600
- 244 Walter Whall Battiss; Rock Art Composition II 2 046 240
- 215 Alexis Preller; Breying The Riems 1 705 200
- 242 Alexis Preller; David 4 1 114 064
- 256 Walter Whall Battiss; Limpopo 1 045 856
- 229 Erik (Frederik Bester Howard) Laubscher; Still Life with Pumpkin Slice 932 176