Slegte Nuus (Bad News), Anton van Wouw’s exquisite and heart-stirring masterpiece, might be the most iconic mini-monument of the Boer War. A rare casting of the work will feature in Strauss & Co’s upcoming auction in Johannesburg between 15-17 May 2022. Vivid, tender, recognisable, and absorbing, this eloquent and extraordinary bronze is one of the country’s cultural treasures.

Conceived in 1907 in the artist’s Doornfontein studio, during a hot streak of creativity, it was first exhibited in Johannesburg and Pretoria in July 1908, and in London, at the Fine Arts Society Galleries, the following year. The sculpture catches two crestfallen Boer soldiers, broken in body and spirit, but brave and ever-hardy, resigned to the loss of their Republics’ independence, or their own impending imprisonment. The moment is agonizing and inspirational: one man rests his head on the other, his right ankle snapped and useless, his physical pain buried, and his cartridges mainly spent; the other’s stare is dogged and fixed forward, his soft veld hat throwing shadows across his gaunt face, his rifle temporarily downed, and his expression haunted by suffering.

This particular casting of Slegte Nuus comes from the furnaces of Giovanni Nisini, the acclaimed foundry on the Via del Babuino in Rome. High-quality Roman castings of the work are desperately rare: only a handful were ordered from Nisini between 1908 and 1924 – with others potentially produced up to 1934 – before the plaster was moved to Giovanni Massa’s foundry. The extraordinary Roman foundrymen and patineurs certainly did justice to Van Wouw’s touching figural composition and his staggering attention to detail: note the iron sights on the Mauser rifle, for instance, the crumpled corduroy jacket sleeves, the matted beards, holes in soles, and the lizard behind the soldiers, perhaps emboldened by their long, melancholy stillness. The sculpture is a poignant tribute to brotherhood, and an enduring image of courage, grit and patriotism.

Strauss & Co’s May auction in Johannesburg, which has a focus on Surrealism in South Africa, begins with a sale of fine wine from the private collections of Peter Veldsman and Dirkie Christowitz on Sunday 15 May at 11am. Sessions of Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art will take place on Monday 16 May at 2pm and 7pm, as well as on Tuesday 17 May at 7pm.





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