As the curtains draw to a close on another extraordinary year, we find ourselves immersed in a rich and impressive tapestry of South African art. Stephan Welz & Co. has had the privilege of handling many high-profile collections and have offered the works of many blue-chip artists. Although we have had some interesting art on offer, our Johannesburg specialists have gravitated towards a few notable artists. Alexia Ferreira, Art Specialist, Johannesburg
The artistic journey of Nic Bladen (1974) is marked by a profound fascination with the intricate details of plant life, particularly the complex and often overlooked structures of flowers. His sculptures, predominantly crafted from bronze and other metals, showcase an extraordinary attention to detail. Bladen’s ability to capture the essence of a flower or plant in metal is nothing short of extraordinary, and his work has garnered attention both locally and internationally.
Bladen’s career as a sculptor and jewellery designer began by pioneering a method of creating perfect castings of organic matter, based on his knowledge of the ancient technique of lost-wax casting, together with his training as a dental technician. Bladen’s “work as a crown and bridge technician involved extremely accurate casting methods. [He] began toying with casting flowers but these experiments stayed in drawers until, in 2000, a friend introduced [him] to Otto du Plessis at Bronze Age Foundry in Simon’s Town.” (Kalk Bay Modern Sa:sp) It was then that he realised that this was the next step in his journey and began an apprenticeship at the foundry the following year.
The scale of Bladen’s sculptures varies, ranging from small, intricate pieces that fit in the palm of your hand, to jewellery pieces that can be worn, to larger installations that command attention in outdoor spaces. Regardless of size, each piece reflects a commitment to excellence and a passion for showcasing the diversity of South Africa’s plant life. Bladen’s work has been featured in numerous exhibitions, both in South Africa and abroad. His sculptures have found homes in private collections, public spaces, and galleries, contributing to the broader conversation about the intersection of art and nature. His ability to capture the essence of the South African landscape has positioned him as a significant figure in the country’s contemporary art scene.
One of the defining features of Bladen’s art is his commitment to authenticity. He meticulously studies and observes the plants he intends to recreate, often working directly from life. Bladen’s work often blurs the lines between science and art, appealing to botanists and art enthusiasts alike. His sculptures are not mere replicas; they are expressions of the profound beauty he sees in nature. Through his art, Bladen invites viewers to slow down, observe, and appreciate the intricate details that might go unnoticed in the hustle of everyday life. Particularly with his jewellery pieces, Bladen believes that his “nature-inspired creations speak to the gardener, the bird-lover, the botanist, or the seer of patterns. [That] when people wear [his] jewellery, they are saying: ‘I’ve found something frozen in time.” Plant species are fast vanishing…’” (Kalk Bay Modern)
In addition to his artistic endeavours, Nic Bladen is known for his involvement in environmental and conservation initiatives. Bladen has been approached by the Table Mountain Fund to portray their motives with sculptural pieces, saying; ” There is a documentary value to these castings, in the sense that these pieces will exist long after many of the plants have died out.” Bladen invites viewers to contemplate the fragility and resilience of the natural world, highlighting the interdependence between humans and plants. These sculptures serve as a poignant reminder of the importance of preserving biodiversity and nurturing our environment. Bladen’s botanical sculptures are not merely artistic creations; they are powerful expressions of reverence for nature’s wonders and an invitation to reconnect with the awe-inspiring beauty of the plant kingdom.
Bladen’s art not only serves as a visual celebration of nature but also as a reminder of the importance of preserving and protecting the environment. As with any artist, his work continues to evolve. His dedication to his craft and his exploration of the natural world ensure that each new piece adds depth to his already impressive body of work. Whether you encounter his sculptures inspired by flora in the natural landscape in a gallery, public space or art collections, Nic Bladen’s art invites us to reconnect with the beauty of the world around us. Robyn Woolley, Junior Art Specialist, Johannesburg
Frans Oerder (1867-1944) is one of the most prominent figures within the canonical understanding of South African art history. His associations with masters such as Anton van Wouw and Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957) (one of Oerder’s students), perpetuates the significance of Oerder’s influence on the zeitgeist of South African art.
This prominent position within the art world as well as his reputation as a well-respected teacher is the reason why Oerder was appointed by Paul Kruger in 1899 as the official War artist during the Anglo-Boer War. Although Oerder’s depiction of the Anglo-Boer war still hangs in the Bloemfontein War Museum today, this is surprisingly not Oerder’s most revered body of work. Oerder has become associated characteristically with his bright and colourful still lives. He was deeply influenced by his wife, Gerda Ptilo who was a painter of flowers, to embark on a series of flower/still life compositions and it was her impact which led to some of Oerder’s most revied works.
“Still Life with Flowers in a Blue Vase” was one of my favourite artworks on auction this year as Oerder’s later works and more specifically his still lives have a sense of endearment to them that is hard to ignore. The influence of his wife on his body of work is a fact that unavoidably adds a sense of sentimentality for me as an art specialist. Especially, considering the contrast between Oerder’s earlier and later artworks as Esme Berman has noted “although many of Oerder’s later works – most notably his flower-pieces – are fairly bright and colourful, colour itself was not a primary ingredient of his style. He was more concerned with tonal values in his early work and often limited his palette quite severely in order to emphasise this aspect of the composition.” (Berman 1975: 20).
It is evident that Oerder throughout his career paid homage to the Dutch realists and his artworks contain several key characteristics of the movement such as symmetry, the construct of linear perspective, the manipulation of light and banal everyday subject matters. Even though there is a distinct difference between the tonal elements of Oerder’s earlier and later artworks – the other characteristics remain and are evident in both stages of his career. It should be noted that Oerder also dabbled with the characteristics of the impressionist movement however, he never consistently explored these techniques throughout his career although, it did impact the way in which Oerder tried to emphasise the visual sensations found within his subject matter. The country was impoverished by South African War (1899-1902) and the difficulty to make a living as an artist forced Oerder to return to his home-land in 1908
“Still Life with Flowers in a Blue Vase” is an exemplary artwork as it shows the early influence of the Dutch realists as well as the later influence of Gerda Ptilo (who later became Mrs Gerda Oerder) on Oerder’s body of work. When Oerder returned to South Africa with Gerda in 1938 he had become a mature successful painter. This piece, similarly, to all still lives, commemorates the concept that there is a sense of transcendental beauty found within the mundane, which compliments the notion that the simplistic beauty of nature will always transcend time. This is an element of all still lives which I have always thoroughly enjoyed as an art specialist. Oerder’s body of work and more specifically his later artworks are a fundamental reminder of this concept and combined with the vivid colour palette and accuracy of his depictions it is hard not to become enraptured by his works. The execution of technique as well as the ability to capture the beauty the mundane is why Oerder has received such a revied reputation as an artist. Until a few days before he died at the age of 77 in 1944, he was working on a flower still life (Scott).
As 2023 comes to an end Stephan Welz & Co would like to thank the loyal collectors who have followed our sales throughout the year for their ongoing support. We would like to remind all potential sellers that we are actively consigning for our February Cape Town auction as well as our March Johannesburg auction in 2024.