An extraordinary portrait by sought-after painter Alexis Preller depicting Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, will go on sale at Strauss & Co’s June auction in Johannesburg.

The undated painting, executed in Preller’s signature intaglio style and acquired directly from the artist, carries a competitive pre-sale estimate of three to five million rand.

Alastair Meredith, who heads up Strauss & Co’s art department in Johannesburg, is unambiguous about the importance of Preller’s stylised interpretation.

“With his plaited hair, tousled beard and sleek almond eye executed in Preller’s thrilling electric blue, Poseidon comes from the artist’s most important, late-career series of symbolically charged, disembodied heads,” said Dr Meredith

Held in the same private collection for decades, Poseidon, like Adam from the November 16 sale missed being documented in Esmé Berman and Karel Nel’s definitive 2009 book on Preller – adding extra excitement to its offering.

The unusual choice of subject stems from a research trip to Greece and Turkey that Preller undertook in 1968. On his return home Preller worked on an extended cycle of paintings engaged with Grecian motifs and themes.

Preller initially worked on flat surfaces, producing lavishly painted icons, but in 1969 began to experiment with a novel method that first involved modelling a scene in clay. He then created a fibreglass cast onto which he applied his paint treatment.

Preller named the process “intaglio” and described the resulting three-dimensional works as “part sculpture and part painting”. Preller’s intaglio works are highly prized among collectors.

In 2015, Stephan Welz, Strauss & Co’s charismatic founding chairman, sold Preller’s intaglio study of an unclothed male figure Apollo Kouros II (1971) for R5.5 million. And in 2016, Strauss & Co sold a life-size rendition of the biblical first man, Adam (1969), for R6.8 million.

Vigorous bidding among collectors for Preller at Strauss & Co auctions has consolidated this Pretoria-born painter’s reputation as one of South Africa’s leading post-war artists.

After South African masters Irma Stern and JH Pierneef, Strauss & Co’s best performing artist in 2017 was Preller. Strauss & Co’s achieved combined sales of R33.5 million from just 24 Preller lots sold in 2017. The top Preller lot in 2017 was a transformative study of a wounded soldier, Fleurs du Mal (1944), which sold for R8.2 million.

“Strauss & Co has played a pivotal role in building the market for Preller and achieved many records for the artist,” said Dr Meredith.

Strauss & Co’s June sale will feature other works by Preller. It will also include a special section focusing on abstraction.

Strauss & Co is currently inviting consignments of Important South African and International Art for its upcoming June auction. Entries close 6 April. Enquiries: 011 728 8246 | 021 683 6560