Sydney Kumalo was in his early thirties when he began work on his Madala series, highly collectable bronzes depicting old men and cast in small editions by dealer Egon Guenther. A very rare example from this series, Madala VI (estimate R700 000 – 900 000), will go on sale at Strauss & Co’s live auction at the Wanderers Club, Johannesburg, on 13 November.

Hailed by The New York Times as South Africa’s “best-known, most admired and most sought-after figurative sculptor” when he showed with American dealer Eric Estorick in London in 1965, Kumalo began work on his Madala series in 1966. Dr Gavin Watkins, a noted authority on Kumalo, describes the two-year period in which the sculptor produced his eight bronzes depicting old men as Kumalo’s “golden period”.

Kumalo found immediate success with this first work. Madala I was awarded a bronze medal at the Transvaal Academy in 1967, the same year Madala V was exhibited on the 1967 São Paulo Biennale.

Kumalo produced six new figures in 1967, Madala II–VII. He capped the series with Happy Madala, produced in 1968. Guenther cast only one or two editions of each of these sculptures, adding to their scarcity and collectability. In the absence of any photographic records of Madala VI, until recently this 86cm sculpture of a kneeling figure was known only from Guenther’s records and an unpublished masters degree thesis at the University of Pretoria.

“Madala VI is a particularly large and striking example from the Madala series,” says Watkins. “Given the fact that Madala VI was cast as a single edition only, discovering the original Madala VI cast is a very rare and important find indeed, especially when one considers that it hasn’t changed hands since it was bought directly from Guenther in 1967.”

The rarity of these works at auction is also well known. The only work in the series handled by Strauss & Co to date is an edition of Madala V, which sold for R591 135 in 2014.

Alongside Madala VI, Strauss & Co’s upcoming sale at the Wanderers includes a number of other important works: Alexis Preller’s transformative study of a wounded soldier, Fleurs du Mal (estimate R4-6 million), Irma Stern’s Still Life with Poinsettias (estimate R4-6 million), Gerard Sekoto’s gregarious study of street life, Women in the Country (estimate R2.5-3.5 million), and William Kentridge’s large drawing for an Italian newspaper, Drawing for ‘Íl Sole 24 Ore’ (estimate R1.8-2.4 million). The sale is preceded by a preview exhibition at the Wanderers Club from 10-12 November, with expert walkabouts on Saturday 11 November and Sunday 12 November, both at 11 am.
Text by Sean O’Toole