Strauss & Co’s fourth and final live auction of 2017 ended on a high note in Johannesburg, with combined sales totalling R76 million. The exceptional result, achieved on a solid 84.32% value sell-through rate, helped push the company’s annual turnover into record territory. Combined sales for the financial year to date are R322 584 601.

“Consistency lies at the heart of our excellent results,” said Strauss & Co’s chairperson Frank Kilbourn. “Throughout the year, Strauss & Co has dependably brought top quality works to the market at realistic estimates, enabling our clients, both buyers and sellers, to benefit from high sell through rates and several record prices. We are committed to keep on innovating to expand both the range of works offered and the audience we serve.”

A day of lively bidding saw exceptional prices achieved for blue-chip artists like Alexis Preller, Irma Stern and Gerard Sekoto. There was great anticipation around Preller’s transformative study of a wounded soldier, Fleurs du Mal, which drew on the painter’s experiences as a stretcher-bearer and medic in World War Two. The work sold for R8 184 960, well above the high estimate.

“In the last two years, Preller has emerged as South Africa’s leading post-war painter,” said Bina Genovese, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director, who knocked down Fleurs du Mal. Genovese additionally handled Flower King, a handsome allegorical portrait from 1968 that sold for R3 296 720; Horseman, a small oil from 1950 that achieved R1 932 560; and Sea Amphora, a 1962 work depicting a vessel-like form that brought in R1 705 200. Added Genovese: “Strauss & Co continues to play a leading role in giving this leading artist the prominence he deserves.”

Collector appetite for important works by Irma Stern remains strong. Still Life with Poinsettias, an important work painted in 1934 and exhibited at the 1936 Empire Exhibition in Johannesburg, sold for R6 707 120. Two Stern portraits, part of a trio from 1943 depicting the artist’s friend and patron Freda Feldman, performed solidly. Freda with Roses sold for R3 524 080 and Freda in Khaki Dress fetched R3 410 400.

A very rare bronze from Sydney Kumalo’s important “Madala” series, Madala VI, sold for R1 307 320. It is the first time this important work has traded hands since it was acquired from art dealer Egon Guenther in 1967. A small Kumalo bronze, Homage to Maillol, sold for R352 409, also above its high estimate.

Key works by Gerard Sekoto have infrequently appeared on the open market in recent years. Women in the Country, a gregarious study of street life from Sekoto’s celebrated Eastwood period (1945-47) unsurprisingly prompted competitive bidding and sold for R3 751 440. An earlier work from the painter’s formative Sophiatown period (1939-42), The Pink Road, netted R1 477 840.

The daylong sale at the Wanderers Club included 35 lots from the Barloworld Collection, with a number of landscapes providing surprise results. Harold Voigt’s Lowveld Mood IV: African Landscape XXI sold for R397 880, 25 times above estimate, and Gordon Vorster’s Pafuri Mood II fetched R215 992, 30 times over the pre-sale estimate. The highlight, though, was Adolph Jentsch’s After the Rain, from 1939, which sold for R1 250 480. An important work by Maud Sumner, Still Life with Fruit on Blue Table, also from the same collection, sold for R909 440.
“The team at Strauss & Co has proved their ability to handle important collections, whether from large estates or as part of a re-focus of corporate activities. We are delighted to have been able to facilitate Barloworld achieving these excellent values,” said Kilbourn. Proceeds from the sale will go towards the regeneration of Barloworld’s cultural programme.

Strauss & Co’s sale offering incorporated a series of themed works, including a focus on wartime works, Highveld landscapes and a geographic survey of artists from KwaZulu-Natal. Highlights included Durban painter Trevor Makhoba’s bucolic 1998 study Ntambanana Bus, which fetched a tidy R193 256, above estimate.

Noteworthy sales in the Highveld landscape category included JH Pierneef’s Extensive Landscape, which sold for R2 159 920, above its high estimate. Moses Tladi, an early landscape painter whose work has never appeared on auction performed extremely well. Near the Mill, Kroonstad established a new record for the artist, selling for R341 040. Another Tladi landscape, Two Hillocks, fetched R125 048.

Commenting on the themed showcases within the catalogue, Susie Goodman, general manager of Strauss & Co’s Johannesburg operations, said: “Incremental innovation is vital if we are to maintain our leading position. The lightly curated sections within the sale proved incredibly useful in connecting disparate artists and themes for our buyers.”

Solid performances by two generations of contemporary artists, Mary Sibande and William Kentridge, bode well for Strauss & Co’s inaugural Contemporary Sale, due to be held in Cape Town in February 2018.

An edition of Sibande’s photo Her Majesty, Queen Sophie sold for R193 256, well above its high estimate. A large Kentridge drawing titled Drawing for ‘Íl Sole 24 Ore’, part of a series commissioned for the cover page of Italian financial paper Il Sole 24 Ore, sold to a telephone bidder for R2 387 280. A printer’s proof of Head: Blue sold above its high estimate for R1 136 800, and an attractive small charcoal, Highveld Landscape, fetched R795 760.

Other notable sales included: Ernst de Jong’s 1988 oil Cleft Landscape, which sold for R90 944; Larry Scully’s 1964-69 oil Africa, which fetched R306 936; and poet and painter Breyten Breytenbach’s 1975 oil on board, Die Hen, which soared past its high estimate, achieving R147 784. Karel Nel’s Wayfarer, Mudif, Johannesburg, a large 2004-05 charcoal drawing of a coco-de-mer palm frond from the Seychelles, sold above its high estimate for R682 080.

Strauss and Co’s final sale, an online-only auction, runs Friday, 17 November to Monday, 27 November.
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