There are moments when artistic creativity transcends expression to become a reflection of cultural identity and the ever-changing art space that informs and mirrors society. Within this realm, the remarkable artworks in Taking Flight: A Selection of Works from the Phoenix Collection deserve celebration and reverence. What sets these exquisite pieces apart is their visual allure and significance in the annals of South African art history. Among the featured artists, many held positions within the illustrious New Group, a seminal movement that reshaped the landscape of South African art. Moreover, a notable number have also graced the prestigious halls of international biennales, affirming their impact on the global art scene.

Casting ballots for first New Group exhibition, 1938.


The New Group was a pivotal movement in South African art history, emerging in 1937 as a response to the prevailing —conservative— artistic conventions of the time. Comprising a dynamic ensemble of talented artists, the group sought to challenge traditional norms and explore innovative avenues of expression. At its core, the New Group aimed to foster a fresh, progressive approach to art-making, characterised by experimentation, diversity, and a departure from the conservative artistic establishment. These artists were united in their quest to push boundaries, both stylistically and thematically, and to reflect the complexities of South African society through their work. Artists could join by invitation only, and 17 pioneering artists debuted their works at the New Group’s first exhibition on 4 May 1938 in Cape Town. Among the prominent figures associated with the New Group were Alexis Preller, Francois Krige, Neville Lewis, Eleanor Esmonde-White and Erik Laubscher, all featured in this auction. Each artist brought a distinctive voice and perspective to the collective, contributing to its dynamic ethos. The group was later dismantled in 1953 when the founding values were threatened by institutionalisation.

São Paulo Bienniale poster, 1973


The significance of the New Group artists and other movements of the time, is further underscored by their international recognition, with many of them participating in prestigious international biennales during their careers. Their inclusion in these global platforms not only speaks to the calibre of their work but also highlights the resonance of South African art on the world stage. South Africa’s history of exhibiting at International Art Biennales is a testament to the country’s rich and diverse artistic landscape. The nation’s inaugural participation in these events dates back to 1950 when South Africa debuted at the Venice Biennale, exhibiting in the foreign halls of the biennale’s central pavilion. Artists such as Walter Battiss, Alexis Preller, Irma Stern, Maud Sumner, Sydney Kumalo, and Maurice van Essche represented South Africa during this historic occasion. Irma Stern, in particular, continued to exhibit throughout the 1950s in Venice. Noteworthy is also Alexis Preller’s participation in the São Paulo Biennial in 1973, where his work Adam garnered acclaim and further solidified South Africa’s presence on the international art stage.


Many of these artists not only gained recognition at international biennales during their lifetimes but also continue to be celebrated on these global platforms long after their passing. The 60th International Art Exhibition, Foreigners Everywhere, curated by Adriano Pedrosa at The Venice Biennale this year, will shine a spotlight on some of the artists like Irma Stern and Maggie Laubser that are proudly displayed at Boschendal until 20th April.

As trailblazers of their time, these formidable artists and those of the New Group in particular, left an indelible mark on the trajectory of South African art, paving the way for future generations of creatives to explore, innovate, and inspire.



Irma Stern (South Africa 1894-1966) Black Lilies oil on canvas


Alexis Preller (South Africa 1911-1975) Adam oil on canvas


Neville Lewis (South Africa 1895-1972) The Fruit Picker oil on canvas board

View the works from In Flight: Selected Works from the Phoenix Collection

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