A night of vigorous bidding at Strauss & Co’s s spring auction in Cape Town generated R58 million in sales, a record for the Cape Town office and the second highest individual sale result for South Africa’s leading auction house. The sale, which featured over 630 pieces, achieved an 82.5% sell-through rate, an achievement unmatched by rivals.
The star lot of the sale was a 1947 floral still life by Irma Stern, which sold for R10 572 240 following competitive bidding by several interested buyers. Strauss & Co’s joint managing director Bina Genovese knocked down the lot for R9.3 million, the hammer price comfortably surpassing the R7 million high estimate on this vivid work.
It was Genovese’s first time to lead the evening sale, marking a confident new phase for Strauss & Co since the passing of veteran auctioneer Stephan Welz in late 2015. “I was a little nervous stepping up to the podium but the energy from the full house was exhilarating,” says Genovese. “There was tremendous interest in our exceptional offering.”
Rival bidders chased after key works, notably by Sydney Kumalo, George Pemba, Stanley Pinker, Alexis Preller, Penny Siopis and Vladimir Tretchikoff.
A gorgeous Preller from 1953 depicting a flock of egrets set the tone early on for the evening sale. The 17 x 28.5cm sold for R545 664, more than doubling its pre-sale high estimate. The result bodes well for Strauss & Co’s November sale in Johannesburg of important Preller works.
The early interest in Preller was sustained in subsequent lots. A striking bronze sculpture by Kumalo, Study for Mythological Rider, attracted a number of bidders, eventually selling for R1 364 160, well above the high estimate of R800 000.
A historically important oil on board by Pemba from 1993 portraying a group of queuing pensioners far surpassed expectations, selling for R341 040. The work was originally gifted by the artist to the Port Elizabeth branch of the Black Sash, which also received the proceeds from the sale.
A late entrant into the bidding helped push a landscape study of Titiesbaai by Pinker over the R1 million threshold. Pinker, a much-loved painter in Cape Town, proved his robustness at auction and eventually sold for R1 250 480.
Buyer enthusiasm also saw an important early Siopis, Lace Cloth from 1983, sell for R1 136 800, effortlessly doubling the high estimate. The result confirms Siopis’s importance at a time of increased visibility internationally, notably in London.
“This strong result is testimony to the diversity and quality of our individual offerings on this sale,” says Strauss & Co chairman Frank Kilbourn. “The overall result was built on a comprehensive performance throughout our departments.”
Strong sales of decorative arts contributed to the strong result. An amethyst and gold fringe necklace designed by Tretchikoff sold for R159 152, unexpectedly doubling the pre-sale high estimate.
Jewellery, silver and furniture pieces from the Estate of Liselotte Hardebeck fetched R1 104 245. Proceeds from this sale will go to Umamawothando Trust, a philanthropic initiative established by Hardebeck in 2009 for the advancement of post-graduate study for previously disadvantaged learners.
Underscoring an age-old auctioneering truth that quality commands the best prices, four lots of mid-twentieth century stoneware vases by Hans Coper and Dame Licie Rie realised a collective value of R1 682 464.
The day’s bidding highlight was a century-old twelve-light Tiffany Studios Lily floor lamp. Buyers on the floor and phones chased after this work, which was knocked down to a local buyer. The sale price of R500 192 tripled the pre-sale estimate.
Twelve lots of rare Cape silver realised R661 792.
“The decorative arts significantly contribute to our overall offering,” says Vanessa Phillips, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director. “But this sale was quite extraordinary. Buyer enthusiasm for our quality offerings was visible across the board.”
The next Strauss & Co auction is on 7 November in Johannesburg. Buyer appetite for quality work, a hallmark of Strauss & Co auctions, suggests the company’s November 2010 record of R66 million for a single auction may be surpassed.
Image: Irma Stern, Still Life with Lilies, signed and dated 1947, oil on canvas, 83 by 76,5cm.