Jacob Hendrik Pierneef - Bushveld, Northern Transvaal.
Jacob Hendrik Pierneef - Bushveld, Northern Transvaal.

Major Pierneef Landscape heads Strauss & Co July flagship auction

By Partnered Content Time of article published Jul 21, 2020

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The cover lot of Strauss & Co’s winter Live Virtual auction, due to be held over three days from 26 to 28 July, is a monumental bushveld scene by JH Pierneef. Painted in 1953, Bosveld (estimate R9 – 12 million) is a masterpiece from this coveted painter’s late period and originates from a superb single-owner collection that includes museum-quality works by Gregoire Boonzaier, Dylan Lewis, Alexis Preller, Gerard Sekoto, Irma Stern and Edoardo Villa, among others. 

“The offering of this survey collection of important South African art from the property of a collector has been purposefully scheduled to mark the climax of our three-day sale,” says Susie Goodman, executive director with Strauss & Co. “The range and depth of this collection is astonishing. It charts major trends in South African landscape painting, from Pieter Wenning to Walter Meyer, and includes fine humanist figure studies, notably an Eastwood-period oil by Gerard Sekoto, as well as a stand-out landscape by Irma Stern.” The 45-lot collection will be offered to the public in a dedicated session on Tuesday, 28 July at 7pm.

WATCH: Alastair Meredith, senior art specialist and head of Strauss & Co’s art department discusses Pierneef's Bosveld

South Africa’s pre-eminent auction house when it comes to handling discerning private collections, Strauss & Co will also include works from a second private art collection in the up-coming Live Virtual auction. Billed as the Property of a Pretoria Collector and comprised of 11 historical lots, this single-owner collection will be the first of the two to go under the hammer, on Tuesday 28 July at 4pm. This focused collection includes a rare bronze by master sculptor Anton van Wouw, cast at the Roman foundry of Galileo Massa. The Scout (estimate R900 000 – 1.2 million) depicts a Boer guerrilla fighter on patrol peering over a rocky ridge. New scholarly research has added significantly to an appreciation of the Italian master foundrymen used by Van Wouw during his lifetime.  

Anton van Wouw - The Scout.

Other highlights from the property of a Pretoria collector include Pierneef’s synoptic Landscape with Purple Mountains (estimate R500 000 – 800 000) and an Eastern Cape landscape by his close friend, Erich Mayer (estimate R35 000 – 50 000). Mayer’s panoramic work is presented as a diptych. Marjorie Wallace’s candlelit vigil Kennis van die Aand (estimate R50 000 – 70 000) takes its title from Andre Brink’s controversial 1973 novel of the same name.

Jacob Hendrik Pierneef - Landscape with Purple Mountains

Each distinctive in its own way, the two collections are nonetheless strongly grounded in twentieth-century South African modernism and offer collectors an opportunity to acquire important pieces. Bidding for the larger collection of important South African art from the Property of a Collector will start with two early works by Gerard Sekoto (estimate R300 000 – 500 000 each) from 1940. Hints of his stylistic flourishes and social-realist vision are present in these gouaches portraying everyday activities. These virtues soon culminated in peak-period works like The Visitor, Eastwood (estimate R3 – 4 million), which depicts a cyclist conversing with a mother and child in an effervescent landscape of tonal colour.

WATCH: Alastair Meredith, senior art specialist and head of Strauss & Co’s art department discusses Irma Stern's Congo Forest Scene

“This collection was assembled over many decades and includes top-quality examples of works from a range of periods and locations,” says Alastair Meredith, senior art specialist and head of Strauss & Co’s art department. “The 45 lots on offer are drawn from a larger survey collection and include a number of important works by Pierneef, Sekoto and Stern.” Ranging in both style and geographical subject, the six Pierneef lots from this collection include the ochre-hued casein A Windswept Tree on an Extensive Landscape (estimate R350 000 – 500 000) and A Lowveld Landscape with Trees (estimate R1.8 – 2.8 million), a remarkable tonal work from 1945 rendered in ochre, taupe, grey and russet. Painted five year later, Cape Homestead (estimate R800 000 – 1.2 million) exhibits technical flourishes reminiscent of Pierneef’s cubist phase.

Alexis Preller’s Surreal Minoan Bulls (estimate R2 – 3 million) dates from 1954 and gloriously reimagines three sturdy bulls as decorated boats with mask faces for prows, each bedecked with exaggerated sickle-shaped horns. Preller’s earthy palette corresponds with that used by Cecil Skotnes in his assembly of elongated primal figures, Visit to a Battle Site (estimate R600 000 – 900 000).

Although best known for her energetic portraits and still lifes, Irma Stern also produced a considerable number of remarkable landscapes. Congo Forest Scene (estimate R4 – 6 million) dates from the artist’s second visit to the Belgian Congo in 1946 and depicts a banana plantation, most likely in the Lake Kivu region. The work reveals Stern’s indebtedness to later-impressionist techniques and is presented in an original Zanzibar frame.

Pieter Wenning’s Landscape, Pretoria (estimate R500 000 – 700 000) describes the unrest of a highveld thunderstorm in an impressionist manner. One of the earliest works on offer, Wenning’s 1919 composition establishes a mood of splendid solitude that recurs in works by Keith Alexander, Gregoire Boonzaier, Paul du Toit, Francois Krige, Hugo Naude, Nita Spilhaus and JEA Volschenk.

Maud Sumner - Village Street Scene

The collection includes six lots by Boonzaier, who, like Sekoto, had an eye for gregarious life. Wale Street, Bo-Kaap (estimate R500 000 – 700 000) depicts a busy street in one of the artist’s favourite painterly haunts and is dated 1938, the year he co-founded the New Group.

The sculpture selection includes works by two Amadlozi artists, Ezrom Legae’s Man on Horse (estimate R300 000 – 500 000) and Edoardo Villa’s Mother and Child (estimate R900 000 – 1.2 million). Both works are rendered in simplified forms typical of mid-century sculpture without sacrificing compassion to technique. Vigour and motion are hallmarks of Dylan Lewis’s Cheetah Running III, an editioned bronze from the artist’s esteemed studies of wild cats.

William Kentridge’s Fire Walker (estimate R150 000 – 250 000) is an ink wash with linocut. The work is based on his public sculpture of the same name in central Johannesburg and leads the contemporary selection, which includes Norman Catherine, Judith Mason and Walter Meyer.

Strauss & Co’s forthcoming Live Virtual auction will follow the format of its successful May sale, with auctioneers hammering down lots from physical salerooms in Johannesburg and Cape Town, but bidders participating remotely from the safety and comfort of their homes.

The sale will be live-streamed via the Strauss website, which is integrated with Invaluable.com, the world’s leading international platform for buying art, antiques and collectibles online, and offer buyers a seamless transactional environment. Strauss & Co’s salerooms have back-up generators in the event of load-shedding.

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