Strauss & Co is delighted to announce that acclaimed KwaZulu-Natal artist Heather Gourlay-Conyngham has curated a session in the company’s forthcoming online-only auction of modern, post-war and contemporary art, which opens for bidding on Monday, 7 March 2022. Working together with Strauss & Co art specialist Arisha Maharaj, Gourlay-Conyngham has curated a special focus on portraiture. This innovative collaboration entrenches Strauss & Co’s guest curator programme introduced in 2021, which last year included contributions by artists Nandipha Mntambo and Sam Nhlengethwa.
“I approached Heather Gourlay-Conyngham because I am personally a fan of her work,” says Arisha Maharaj, an art history graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand in Strauss & Co’s Johannesburg office who is leading this sale. “Heather was the winner of the inaugural 2013 National Portrait Award, sponsored by Sanlam Private Investments. Being a portraitist, it was good to have her input in organising the special focus on portraiture and hear her points of view. The questions she asked when looking at the portraits in the March sale were really insightful.”
Heather Gourlay-Conyngham and Arisha Maharaj will discuss their collaboration and offer insights into the diverse portraiture catalogue in a livestreamed Strauss & Co webinar on Thursday, 10 March 2022.
Highlights from the exciting portraiture session include Heather Gourlay-Conyngham’s arresting work Self in Jan’s Turban (estimate R20 000 – 30 000), a self-portrait that references Dutch painter Jan van Eyck’s 1433 Portrait of a Man. The session also includes artist self-portraits by Norman Catherine, Nicolaas Maritz and Nina Romm. A 1997 Steven Cohen chair upholstered with seat fabric featuring the artist’s face highlights the quirky potential when portrait meets derrière. Similar works include a diptych by Robert Hodgins depicting the artist’s uncle and great-grandmother (estimate R30 000 – 50 000 for the two).
There are various studies of military figures by artists Eric Byrd, JH Pierneef, Paul Stopforth and Diane Victor. Works on paper by Nelson Makamo, Blessing Ngobeni, Bambo Sibiya and Lionel Smit show the portrait genre’s enduring popularity in the present.
The portrait medium is not limited to drawing, printmaking and painting. Maharaj draws attention to the remarkable dexterity of Johannesburg artist Joni Brenner, who is represented in the portrait session by a watercolour Wall Painter I (estimate R30 000 – 50 000), an oil portrait of artist Thea Soggot (estimate R 7 000 – 9 000) and two unfired Sikagard-consolidated clay heads, The Gault and Goliard (estimate R20 000 – 30 000).
Dorothy Kay, the influential Port Elizabeth painter and graphic artist, has a number of works on paper in the March sale. They include two fine portraits, both etchings: Old Oysterwoman (estimate R4 000 – 5 000) and Fingo Witchdoctor (estimate R2 500 – 3 500). This coming July, Strauss & Co’s head curator Wilhelm van Rensburg will present an exhibition exploring continuities between Kay, who died in 1964, and Johannesburg contemporary artist Mary Sibande at Strauss & Co’s Johannesburg gallery. This non-selling exhibition forms part of a longstanding educational programme organised by Strauss & Co.
The multi-session March sale of modern, post-war and contemporary art includes a number of high-value lots, among them Maud Sumner’s still life Les Allumettes (The Matches, estimate R80 000 – 120 000), Johannes Meintjes’s Boy with Daffodils in a Vase (estimate R100 000 – 150 000) and Alexis Preller’s Sketch for the Flower King (estimate R30 000 – 50 000). Fred Page, an artist best known for his haunting psychological paintings, is the subject of an artist focus. The sale includes eight striking Page gouaches, many consigned by a deceased estate.
William Kentridge, whose important early series of etchings and aquatints Domestic Scenes (1980) are documented in a new book by German publisher Steidl, is represented by four recent chine collé etchings. They all bear the Artist Proof Studio chop. Three of these prints are from Kentridge’s recent Lexicon series of 2021 (Apothecary, Parade and Emergency, estimate R50 000 – 70 000 each).
The specialist art auction coincides with two parallel sales hosted by Strauss & Co’s decorative arts and wine departments. The wine department will present a special focus on 2012 vintage fine wines. The decorative arts catalogue spotlights English and Cape country furniture, with an additional selection of curiosities from the 17th and 18th centuries. There are in excess of 20 pieces of early oak furniture including mule chests, a spice cupboard, joined stools, a cricket table and a 19th century Scottish oak bookcase (estimate 20 000 – 25 000).
Strauss & Co’s three concurrent online-only sales presented by its decorative arts, wine and art departments all open for bidding on Monday, 7 March at 8.00am and conclude on Monday, 14 March at staggered intervals – decorative arts at 6.00pm, wine at 7.00pm and art at 8.00pm.