Michael Coulson:

In a variation on the normal practice, Stephan Welz & Co’s first Joburg art auction of the year wasn’t split into major and minor sessions. Instead, the art was all in one session, split mainly into two sections, traditional and contemporary, with small sub-sections for sculpture and a charity fund-raiser.

This may have been a reflection of what was on offer rather than a new approach, however, as there were only 12 lots with low estimates of R100 000 and upwards, so a “major” session would have been thin indeed. As it was, the contemporary section contained only 64 works, with a low estimate of just under R2.2m. The three preceding sections comprised no fewer than 226 lots, with a low estimate of just under R7.1m, for a total of 290 lots and a low estimate of R9.25m. This compares with 211 lots and a low estimate of R10.1m in the firm’s  earlier sale in Cape Town, confirming this sale’s more modest scope. It’s also a very different approach from the house’s comparable sale last year, which offered just 68 lots with a low estimate of R6.3m.

How successful it was is an open question. In the early sections, 103 lots (45.6%) sold for R4.7m (66.8%); of the contemporary art, 30 (46.9%) sold for R1.6m (74.2%); and thus, overall, 133 lots (45.9%) for R6.3m (68.7%). While this is much better than last year, results of the 2014 event are best forgotten.

Of the top 12 lots, five sold, topped by a Pierneef of a favourite scene,  Rustenburg kloof, for R1.26m (est R1.2m-R1.6m). Tretchikoff’s Ndebele Chief fetched R919 000 (R600 000-R900 000); a William Kentridge drawing for the HOT[E]L film project R746 000 (R700 000-R900 000, wrapped around the front and back covers); Ephraim Ngatane’s Brothers R253 000 (R180 000-R240 000); and an Alexis Preller portrait R241 000 (R100 000-R150 000 — as always, estimates are hammer price only, reported prices hammer-plus).

Failures included the top estimate, Gerard Sekoto’s The Water Boy (R1.4m-R1.6m), a Walter Battiss nude (R400 000-R600 000), an unusual Gregoire Boonzaaier abstract (R280 000-R350 000), Robert Hodgins’ Family Group (R200 000-R300 000, inside back cover), another Kentridge drawing (R140 000-R180 000), and two on the R100 000-R150 000 mark, a Keith Alexander and another Preller.

Also featured were Maurice van Essche’s Three Native Girls (sic), R86 000 (R80 000-R120 000, front of art lots), Matthew Hindley’s The Unswept Floor, unsold (R80 000-R120 000, in front of the contemporary art) and — a surprising choice, in view of the low price — Diederick During’s The Swan, R22 000 (R10 000-R15 000, inside front cover).

Of the most represented artists, seven of nine Pieter van der Westhuizens sold; all six John Muafangejos and two of six Kentridges; on five, Maggie Laubser and Frans Claerhout, four, Jordan Maseko and WH Coetzer three, and Eli Kobeli and Erich Mayer two; and on four,  Norman Catherine and Maggie Laubser all four, Battiss and Errol Boyley two, Mel Brigg and Titta Fasciotti one each and Wayne Barker none.

With the paucity of major work, not much can be read into this sale, as far as prices go. But at least it extends the trend in local sales of grosses bigger than last year.

Image: Alexis Preller – “Portrait of an African Boy” (detail) – sold for R241 000