Record price for Irma Stern at Strauss & Co sale affirms South Africa’s status as the best marketplace to trade artworks by premium South African modernists
- Irma Stern’s Children Reading the Koran (1939) sells for R22.3 million/ $1.227 million, a new African auction record for artwork sold at auction on the continent
- 110-lot evening sale of modern and contemporary art earns R70 455 935/ $3 872 400
- Robust demand for key South African moderns, notably Freida Lock, Hugo Naudé, J. H. Pierneef, Alexis Preller, Irma Stern, Vladimir Tretchikoff and Pieter Wenning
- Solid results for works from Naspers Collection marks turnaround in market for Hugo Naudé
- Record price for contemporary painter Ruby Swinney and excellent results for David Goldblatt, William Kentridge, Dylan Lewis and Sethembile Msezane
- World record for Vladimir Tretchikoff still life
Strauss & Co confirmed its status as Africa’s leading auction house when it sold celebrated modernist painter Irma Stern’s devotional scene, Children Reading the Koran, from her 1939 artist trip to Zanzibar, for R22.3 million ($1.227 million) to a bidder in the room at its premier evening sale of modern and contemporary art last night in Cape Town. The price established a new African record for an artwork by any artist sold at auction on the continent.
“It is an outstanding price for an African modernist at auction and underscores Strauss & Co’s place as a custodian of value for important moderns like Irma Stern,” says Frank Kilbourn, Chairperson, Strauss & Co. “The quality of our offering resulted in one of the strongest sales we have seen in some time. There was strong demand throughout the auction for revered South African painters, with especially competitive bidding for important works by Freida Lock, Hugo Naudé, J. H. Pierneef, Alexis Preller, Vladimir Tretchikoff and Pieter Wenning. There can be no doubt that South Africa remains the best marketplace to trade artworks by the country’s premium modernists.”
The 110-lot evening sale of modern and contemporary art, which brought to a close Strauss & Co’s multi-day sale of art, wine and decorative arts, earned R70 455 935 ($3 872 400) with a lot sell-through rate of 71.82%.
“I was very encouraged by the consistently animated bidding in our new salesroom,” says Bina Genovese, Managing Executive, Strauss & Co, who knocked down the winning bid for Stern’s Children Reading the Koran. “We delivered exceptional results for our clients, achieving robust prices for modernist paintings by Hugo Naudé, J.H. Pierneef and Irma Stern. Our contemporary offering also did remarkably well, with strong results for David Goldblatt, William Kentridge, Dylan Lewis and Sethembile Msezane, as well as a new record price for a painting by Ruby Swinney.”
The catalogue for Strauss & Co’s first marquee live-virtual auction of 2023 encompassed an exceptional range of works made between 1897 and 2019. The oldest lot was Hugo Naudé’s 1897 marine scene, The Old Pier, Cape Town, from the collection of the technology company Naspers, which sold for R293 125 ($16 110). The auction heralded the revival of Naudé at market, with his vibrant impressionist landscape, Namaqualand, Springtime, also from the Naspers Collection, selling to an online bidder for R866 438 ($47,625). Part of an exciting new generation of South African painters, Ruby Swinney’s Kindergarten, an ethereal diptych from 2019, sold for R175 875 ($9 665).
Bidding was especially firm for works by J. H. Pierneef, confirming sustained demand following Strauss & Co’s highly successful single-artist auctions for Pierneef in 2021 and 2022. The best performing Pierneef was Highveld Landscape from 1945, which sold for just over R8 million ($440 208). This iconic work drew 26 bids and saw five prospective buyers vie to place the winning bid. Also from the Naspers Collection, Pierneef’s Red Kloof from 1928 sold for R5.5 million ($301 933). Alexis Preller’s The Red Blanket, a celebrated 1955 portrait of a woman in traditional dress, sold for R6.9 million ($377 691).
In 2011, Strauss & Co sold Irma Stern’s Two Arabs, also linked to her 1939 Zanzibar trip, for R21.2 million, a record price now surpassed by the sale of Stern’s Children Reading the Koran for R22.3 million.