Stellar debuts for young artists at Strauss & Co’s contemporary art sale

Talented multi-media artist Athi-Patra Ruga once again topped Strauss & Co’s annual contemporary art sale in Cape Town when his wool and thread tapestry measuring three-metres high sold for R796 600. Held in a portside warehouse in the V&A Waterfront, the 102-lot sale grossed R12.3 million with a lot sell-through rate of 71%.

Athi-Patra Ruga | Touched by an Angel | wool and thread on tapestry canvas, SOLD R 796 600

The well-attended sale established new category world records for large-scale photographs by Mary Sibande and Berni Searle. Encouragingly, the sale also registered collector interest in auction newcomers Nicholas Hlobo, Musa N. Nxumalo, Cinga Samson and Ruby Swinney. Intense bidding for paintings by Swinney and Samson, that included the participation of online bidders, saw their lots double pre-sale estimates and sell for R136 560 and R238 980 respectively.

Cinga Samson | Untitled | oil on canvas, SOLD R 238 980

Established collector interest for works by Jake Aikman, Lisa Brice, Georgina Gratrix, Mohau Modisakeng, Zanele Muholi and Simphiwe Ndzube remained, with prices established at previous Strauss & Co sales either matched or surpassed. Gratrix’s satirical portrait of a happy couple earned the highest price for a painting when it sold for R318 640.

Georgina Gratrix, | Happy Couple | SOLD R 318 640

“Our mission with this specialist sale was always to introduce new artists to the market and broaden our base of collectors,” says Strauss & Co chairperson Frank Kilbourn. “This is absolutely happening. Over and above our loyal and committed South African collectors, the third instalment of our contemporary art sale attracted buyers from France, Italy, Germany and the United States. As Cape Town’s profile continues to grow among international collectors, this is having a positive impact on the profile and value of artists from the African continent.”

The top ten lots sold at Strauss & Co’s second live auction of 2020 point to a growing diversity in the South African auction market. Alongside auction stalwarts like Norman Catherine and Robert Hodgins, the list included Nicholas Hlobo, Mary Sibande and Berni Searle.

Berni Searle | Still | digital prints on backlit paper, SOLD R 318 640

Hlobo’s auction debut was christened with a solid result when his embroidered ribbon assemblage piece Umphokoqo sold for R455 200. Confirming momentum started in 2017, an early portrait depicting Sibande’s avatar Sophie, an elaborately costumed domestic worker, sold for R261 740 – bettering her previous high result of R 193 256. Searle’s photo installation Still, previously owned by collectors Graham and Rhona Beck, sold for R318 640.

Nicholas Hlobo | Umphokoqo |SOLD R 455 200

Scarcity is a hallmark of value in the secondary market. Rarely offered at auction in South Africa, a 2007 bronze by figure sculptor Claudette Schreuders attracted intense bidding before selling for R318 640 – doubling the previous high established in 2014. The most valuable sculpture lot to find a buyer was Beezy Bailey’s celebratory blue powder-coated bronze, 1000 Year Dance Cure II, which fetched R398 300.

Claudette Schreuders | Bird in the Hand | bronze and enamel paint, SOLD R 318 640

Better known as a painter, Bailey’s 2003 canvas depicting two marching figures also ranked among the top-selling paintings when it sold for R216 220. Other painters who commanded solid results included: Jake Aikman (R250 360 for a 2019 seascape), Meriem Bouderbala (R204 840 for an enigmatic 2015 reverse glass painting), Lisa Brice (R250 360 for a 2005 nocturnal tropical scene), Robert Hodgins (R284 500 for an abstracted head from 2004), Owusu-Ankomah (R193 460 for a 2011 acrylic featuring adinkra symbols), Mustafa Maluka (R250 360 for a vivid 2005 portrait) and current Standard Bank Young Artist laureate Blessing Ngobeni (R250 360 for a 2015 social allegory).

Strauss & Co’s contemporary art sale bookended a busy two weeks of exhibition openings and related programmes timed to coincide with the Investec Cape town Art Fair. Notwithstanding Cape Town’s emergence as a global art capital, Strauss & Co joint managing director Bina Genovese is candid about the difficult business circumstances facing South Africa.

“It is no secret that we are trading in a constrained economic environment and conditions in the secondary market have tipped in the favour of buyers,” says Genovese. “This was reflected in the sub-optimal performance of some of the high-value lots in our contemporary art catalogue. I am nonetheless encouraged by the depth and resilience of the market for art priced under R500 000. Although only three years old, Strauss & Co’s contemporary art sale continues to play an important role in establishing credible benchmarks in this exciting, future-orientated sector of our business.”

Strauss & Co’s next live sale will be held in Cape Town on 30 March. The sale includes two important works by Irma Stern, a still life and Zanzibar portrait, as well as two notable landscapes by JH Pierneef. The sale will also feature sessions devoted to decorative arts and jewellery, as well as integrate a new session devoted to fine wines.

Peter Clarke | The Fruit Vendor | oil on card, R 600 000 – 800 000


Vladimir Tretchikoff | Portrait of Ellen Peters, R 900 000 – 1 200 000


Stanley Pinker | His and Hers or Decline and Fall, diptych, R 2 000 000 – 3 000 000


Robert Hodgins | Out Shopping, oil on canvas, R 500 000 – 700 000


Walter Battiss | Musician and Bathers, oil on canvas, R 250 000 – 350 000, Property of Kangra Group (Pty) Ltd, Assembled by the Late Graham and Rhona Beck


Irma Stern | Still Life with Lilies, oil on canvas, R 13 000 000 – 15 000 000


Alexis Preller | Space Angel, oil and gesso on canvas, R 5 000 000 – 7 000 000


Jacob Hendrik Pierneef | Bushveld Game Reserve, oil on canvas, R 2 000 000 – 3 000 000

Enquiries: | +27 (0)21 683 6560