One of the highlights of the auction is a specially curated session by senior art specialist Ian Hunter, who is originally from the Eastern Cape and has been exposed to the province’s cultural exports since he was a curator at the Ann Bryant National Gallery and lecturer in the region.
“The Eastern Cape has helped nurture some of South Africa’s most prolific artists and writers. This is an area close to my heart – its history of struggle, distinct landscapes and rich indigenous culture have contributed so much to our artistic and literary canon,” says Hunter. The session features artists such as George Pemba, Penny Siopis, Norman Catherine, Brian Bradshaw, Estelle Marais, Benjamin Coutouvidis, Helen Timms, Cecil Skotnes and Michael Hallier.
The Eastern Cape session focuses on three “hubs” in the Eastern Cape.
“The area that people think of as the ‘heartland’ of the Eastern Cape art scene is usually Makahda (formerly known as Grahamstown),” says Hunter. “Highlights include artwork from the Grahamstown Group, an art movement led by Brian Bradshaw, who was a professor of fine art at Rhodes University in the 1960s. He was an interesting and sometimes controversial figure in the history of South African art,” he adds. “Although British-born Bradshaw’s style shared similarities with the so-called ‘kitchen sink realism’, his combination of abstraction and realism brought a new kind of observation to the South African art,” says Hunter.
One of the standout lots from the Eastern Cape-focused session is an exuberant oil painting, Namib, an abstract landscape of the Namib Desert painted in shades of rich ochre, saffron and flecks of cerulean blue. In this impressive landscape, Bradshaw punctuates the reliefs with indigo cloisonne outlines and impasto brushstrokes. He contrasts this with color fields of russet horizons and cadmium, sun-scorched plains.
Another highlight is Helen Timm, a former student of the Master of Rhodes Divide the land, a large-scale oil painting, executed in an expressive style, rich in texture and movement. The painting reveals a bird’s eye view of a South African settlement – Timm’s feverish brushstrokes enliven the rich tapestry of dwellings and landscapes in his unique painterly style.
Port Elizabeth has also produced several stellar artists – one of the most notable is the black modernist, George Pemba. “A key part of this session is New Brighton, an intimate watercolor of street life in Pemba’s hometown,” says Hunter. Pemba was inspired by European realists Honoré-Victorin Daumier and Gustav Courbet and their unwavering portrayals of class distinctions and social issues. But unlike the Franco-European realists, Pemba recorded his own reality with dignity and pathos.
In New Brighton two female characters stroll through the streets of the then racially segregated township on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha). Despite the tragic history of forced evictions by the apartheid government and issues like poverty and repression, there is almost a rural idyll in this watercolor painting of Pemba.
There are also two remarkable sculptures by Anton Momberg that go under the hammer. Momberg, who is considered one of South Africa’s most accomplished realist sculptors, studied at Port Elizabeth Technikon, earning a teacher’s degree in fine art, specializing in sculpture. bellaa sculpture cast in polyester resin is a stylized nude of a young woman.
Featured artists from East London are Jack Lugg, who ran East London’s Technical College Art School for 35 years, Cecil Skotnes and Norman Catherine.
The sale also includes pillars and perennials at regular fine art auctions, with prints by William Kentridge, Walter Battiss, Georgina Gratrix, Peter Clarke and JH Pierneef. Pierneef, always a favourite, has two works in this sale, including Hoenderhok, Meerlust, a charming linocut of a chicken coop in front of a gabled Cape Dutch farmhouse.
“Pierneef’s linocuts are selling exceptionally well in the secondary market, fetching prices well above their appraised value. There is a definite growth in collector interest in Pierneef, not just in South Africa, but also internationally,” says Bina Genovese, Senior Executive at Strauss & Co. “Our two unique artist Pierneef sales reflect this, we have seen exponentially rising prices for, among other things, his linocuts,” she concludes.
Strauss & Co’s August online sales presented by its decorative arts, wine and art departments all open for auction on Monday, August 22 at 8:00 am. Auctions close on Monday, August 29 as follows:
Decorative arts at 6 p.m. (A Cape Country Collection, Silver, Furniture, Ceramics, Jewelry)
wine to 7 p.m. (Cape Town Heritage Wines)
The art to 8 p.m. (19th Century, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art – with a focus on artists linked to the Eastern Cape, plus a dedicated Welgemeend session with all proceeds going towards the preservation and conservation of the Welgemeend Mansion in Cape Town.
Browse the auctions and register to bid: www.straussart.co.za.