Artist focus: The many facets of Robert Hodgins revealed in Strauss & Co sale

Robert Hodgins – artist, teacher, journalist and good-humoured raconteur – is widely esteemed by collectors. Since 2009 Strauss & Co has sold a total of 160 lots by Hodgins, achieving combined sales of nearly R50 million. The ten Hodgins lots on offer at Strauss & Co’s forthcoming sale on 12 November in Johannesburg reflect the great diversity and range of this famously late-blossoming artist.

Proficient as a painter, printmaker and in ceramics, the sale includes three Hodgins oils. Painted in 2004-05, Four Business Men (estimate R800 000 – R1 million) sees Hodgins revisit a preferred subject: suit-wearing businessmen, whom he arranges, Matisse-like, in a field of colour. The estimate is a fair reflection of Hodgins’ status at market.

In 2012, two years after the artist’s death, Strauss & Co sold Et in Arcadia Ego (1990-92), a gorgeous figurative work dominated by hot pinks and searing yellows, for R1 million. This stunning result was surpassed in March 2015 when Strauss & Co sold J’accuse (1995-96), a bold expressionist reimagining of the Dreyfus affair of 1894-1906, for R2.2 million. It is a world record for Hodgins.

Hodgins greatly revered the way Weimer-era German expressionist painters handled themes of political violence and subterfuge. The artist’s art-historical passions are clearly discernible in Ubu and the Judgement of Paris (estimate R250 000 – 300 000), a work painted in 1985 when he was intensively working with French playwright Alfred Jarry’s character Ubu Roi.

Painted in 2009, Nasty Young Bugger (estimate R400 000 – 500 000) is a watery study in blue and red of a military figure. Hodgins remarkable ability to evoke human figures from formless washes of colour is also visible in Three Figures (estimate R30 000 – 40 000), a mixed media work from 2007, as well as Two from Appalachia (estimate 40 000 – 60 000), a 2004 monoprint depicting a couple.

Strauss & Co is proud to be offering a rare assemblage work from the artist’s early career. Painted in 1960 and beautifully restored to its original splendour, Mask Head (R80 000 – 120 000) dates from a period of intense painterly experimentation in Pretoria when, influenced by artist Ernst de Jong, Hodgins embraced new trends in painting.

In the last decade of his life Hodgins routinely travelled to Pretoria to work with Retief van Wyk on painted ceramic plates and sculptures. Strauss & Co is offering three painted plates, including The Suit (estimate R12 000 – 18 000) and Portrait of Miss M West (estimate R12 000 – 18 000). Both a fine examples of his painterly skills translated to a different medium.

“Our Hodgins selection will appeal to both specialist and generalist collectors,” says Susie Goodman, a director at Strauss & Co. “Bibliophiles will delight in a lot combining a signed copy of The Human Race, a limited-edition artist book, and the artist’s eponymous 2002 monograph published by Tafelberg. The latter is a treat: it includes an artist interview conducted by the Hodgins.” This combined lot, which carries an estimate of R10 000 – 15 000, forms part of a discriminating selection of artists’ books by David Hockney, Judith Mason and Cecil Skotnes.

All the Hodgins lots will be available for inspection at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg from Friday 9 November until shortly before the sale commences at 2pm on Monday 12 November. The sale includes a fine selection of works by artists from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Strauss & Co is a global leader for South African art and has sold nine of the ten most expensive paintings ever auctioned in South Africa.

Read more about the sale here