JOHANNESBURG – Museum-grade works by a cohort of pioneer black moderns, including Gerard Bhengu, Sydney Kumalo, Ezrom Legae and Moses Tladi, will open the bidding at Strauss & Co’s premier Evening Sale during Johannesburg Auction Week on Tuesday, 7 November 2023. This much-anticipated live-virtual auction of modern and contemporary art comprises 84 lots of collectable South African art by revered painters such as Gerard Sekoto and George Pemba. The presentation tracks the cosmopolitan beginnings of a black tradition of art making in South Africa, which provided the foundation for mid-century artists like Peter Clarke, Dumile Feni, Sydney Kumalo and Ezrom Legae, also represented in the sale.
“We have assembled a fine selection of impressive pictures by pioneering black South African painters, notably Moses Tladi and Gerard Sekoto,” says Dr Alastair Meredith, Head of Sale, Strauss & Co. “Moses Tladi was one of the earliest black landscape painters working in a western tradition, and was also the first black artist to formally exhibit a picture in the Iziko South African National Gallery in 1931. As is well known, the Johannesburg Art Gallery acquired a picture by Gerard Sekoto in 1940, marking the first instance of black artist having their work acquired by a public museum. It is an honour to present work by both these artists.”
Adds Dr Meredith, “In a sale with a strong component of modernist landscapes by established figures like Gwelo Goodman, Maggie Laubser, J.H. Pierneef and Pieter Wenning, it is fantastic to open our marquee summer sale with a trio of exemplary pictures by the enigmatic and for too long overlooked painter Moses Tladi. His work is essential in the story of landscape painting in South Africa. Scenes of natural splendour also compelled Gerard Bhengu, who is represented in the sale by a brilliant watercolour. Gerard Sekoto, an urbane artist who like George Pemba had a strong interest in human affairs, is represented by an observational urban landscape from his acclaimed Eastwood period of 1945-47. This equilibrium, between bucolic nature and engaged city life, is a recurring theme in modernist South African landscape painting.”
The premier Evening Sale of Johannesburg Auction Week will open with Ezrom Legae’s bronze Head II (estimate R60 000 – 80 000 / $3 190 – 4 250) from the John and Elizabeth Bradley Collection. The Evening Sale includes a total of three bronzes by Legae and two bronzes by Kumalo. Legae’s Lonely Head (estimate R150 000 – 200 000 / $7 970 – 10 620) and Kumalo’s Squat Head (estimate R300 000 – 400 000 / $15 930 – 21 240) are also from the John and Elisabeth Bradley Collection. All the bronzes on sale are inventoried in The Sculptures of Sydney Kumalo and Ezrom Legae, a new catalogue raisonné authored by Gavin Watkins and Charles Skinner and published by Strauss & Co.
The strong portfolio of black moderns will be attractive to collectors across various price categories. The three works by Moses Tladi carry estimates of between R70 000 and R150 000 / $3 720 and 7 970. Two of the three Tladi works being offered appeared in the artist’s 2015 retrospective at the Iziko South African National Gallery.
High-value lots include Gerard Sekoto’s Children at Play, Eastwood, Pretoria (estimate R2.8 – 3.2 million / $148 700 – 169 950) and a 1960 gouache by Peter Clarke depicting a black competitive cyclist (estimate R300 000 – 400 000 / $15 930 – 21 245).
In May, Strauss & Co established a new world record for Dumile Feni when it sold a large colour drawing for R2.3 million / $119 805. The forthcoming Evening Sale includes three monochromatic charcoal drawings by Feni. Measuring nearly two metres in height, Feni’s column of Naked Figures is expected to sell for R140 000 to 180 000 /$7 435 – 9 560. George Pemba’s watercolours are highly revered, as is reflected in the estimate for his 1951 composition Woman with Child (R100 000 – 150 000 / $5 310 – 7 970). Gerard Bhengu’s Landscape with Trees (R50 000 – 70 000 / $2 655 – 3 720) represents excellent value for value-motivated collectors.
Strauss & Co’s Evening Sale of Modern and Contemporary art will commence at 7pm on Tuesday, 7 November 2023. The live-virtual auction will be held at Strauss & Co’s Johannesburg auction room, 89 Central Street, Houghton.