Strauss & Co’s Diversified Offering Draws International Collectors To Its April Sale

Two South African auction stalwarts, Anton van Wouw and JH Pierneef, topped the rankings at Strauss & Co’s first virtual-live sale of 2021 when prime examples of their work traded hands for R5.1 million each. The sale earned a total of R 59.376 million.  Held in Cape Town over three consecutive days, the hybrid sale attracted over 700 in-person, telephone and online bidders from more than 20 countries.

Frank Kilbourn, Strauss & Co’s chairperson says: “There was a strong performance on the lot sell-through rate (80.55%) and the value sell-through rate (82.53%) in most sessions of the sale which is encouraging in the present circumstances. The art market is still processing the social and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The volume of new bidders and buyers was especially heartening. I attribute this to the quality, range and depth of our offering and the international reach we have achieved through our alliances with global platforms.”

Adds Kilbourn: “Strauss & Co’s first sale in 2009 included historical paintings and sculpture, furniture, silver and ceramics. These categories remain central to our value proposition, but we have significantly expanded our proposition. Our two-year-old wine department is doing an excellent job profiling South Africa’s best wines. We have also significantly grown our art department. Strauss & Co is committed to expanding the contemporary art componenent of the business and was the first auction house in South Africa to sell a photograph for more than R1million. We are continuing to see consolidation and growth in this emerging category. The Banksy, Mr Brainwash and Larry Rivers lots in our April sale further point to the broadening of our offering as well as client base. Strauss & Co has made great strides in becoming a diversified auction house based in South Africa with an international client base.”

The work of Anton van Wouw and JH Pierneef, key protagonists in the post-union emergence of a South African school of artists, continues to hold the attention of collectors. Van Wouw’s Slegte Nuus (Bad news), a moving portrayal in bronze of two crestfallen Boer soldiers, attracted a raft of bids and eventually sold for R5.1 million to a bidder in the auction room. Six telephone bidders and one committed online bidder vied for Pierneef’s late masterpiece from the Property of a Collector, Baobabs, a 1952 oil on board depicting an unpeopled northern landscape. The lot went to a telephone bidder for R5.1 million.

Commenting on the experience of handling a hybrid sale, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director Bina Genovese says: “Strauss & Co’s effortless transition to a hybrid model of auctioneering has been thrilling to experience as an auctioneer. I nonetheless found it deeply gratifying to engage with an in-person audience, to once again make eye contact with faithful clients whose bidding habits I am so accustomed to. There is a tacit understanding that develops between an auctioneer and a bidder, one that involves recognizing quiet gestures of individuals who want to remain anonymous. The presence of these bidders, coupled with the additional dynamic of seamlessly processing commission, telephone and online bidders, made for a thrilling experience, especially when handling sought-after lots by Van Wouw and Pierneef.”

Pierneef is enjoying a hot streak at auction again. Elephant Castle, Selati Rivier, Phalaborwa, a 1945 work depicting an outcrop of rock at the confluence of two northern rivers outside Phalaborwa, sold to a telephone bidder for R2.85 million.

A tireless traveller of his homeland, Pierneef’s Cape marine landscape Fishing Boats, Hout Bay fetched R2.5 million.

The smallest of the ten Pierneef lots on offer was an undated 10,5 by 14,5cm study titled Extensive Landscape; a marvel of impressionist manners, it attracted considerable interest and sold to a telephone bidder for R398 300.

The decorative arts department had an excellent sale, netting R12.7 million from three sessions devoted to Oriental works of art, jewellery, silver and furniture. The top-selling lot was a lavish 113-piece Chinese export ‘Canton’ famille-rose dinner service hand-decorated and enamelled with court scenes within a flowerhead and butterfly border. This sold to an international buyer for R1.48 million.

Chinese porcelain included two exceptional single-owner collections. 16 lots from the Property of a Connoisseur included a rare Chinese famille-verte dish featuring the Chinese deity Magu beside a cart bearing gifts of longevity, luck and happiness. Fittingly, it sold for R1.36 million. A richly decorated rouleau vase and celadon-glazed brushpot with incised motifs, both from the same collection, achieved R398 300 each.

All 34 lots from the Jerling Estate Blue and White “Kraak” Porcelain Collection found buyers. Descendants of Johann Jacob Jerling, the first free burgher to settle east of the Keurbooms River, Peter and Della Jerling’s collection was inspired by the discovery of porcelain shards from a Portuguese merchant ship that was wrecked along the Plettenberg Bay coastline. A Qing Dynasty brushpot from this collection sold for R91 040 and a large Ming Dynasty dish from the same collection, its centre decorated with auspicious symbols, sold for R 73 970.

“The sadness of the decision by Peter and Della’s two sons to part with their collection, which was a central part of their home while growing up, is offset by the knowledge that these items have been acquired by a discriminating collector who shares the same deep love and interest in historical Chinese porcelain,” says Vanessa Phillips, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director and head of the company’s decorative arts department.

Other notable Chinese items in this sale included a Qing Dynasty cloisonné tripod censor and cover (sold for R364 160) and Qing Dynasty cloisonné enamel ruyi sceptre (sold for R 398 300). Vigorous competition for a rare Cape silver commemorative cup manufactured by Johan Hendrik Vos culminated in an estimate-beating sale price of R625 900. The cup was originally presented to Burgher Cavalry officer Captain Johannes Linden of Stellenbosch in 1805. Noteworthy furniture items included an 18th-century West Coast yellowwood and inlaid cupboard (sold for R341 400) and a pair of 19th-century Cape stinkwood and yellowwood wall cupboards originating from the Oudtshoorn district (sold for R284 500).The wine session spotlighted a trio of legendary South African producers: luxury icon De Toren Private Cellar, classical Meerlust Estate and leading producer Mullineux Family Wines. The session earned R989 590 from 133 lots sold (92% lot sell-through rate). The top-selling lot was a single five-litre bottle of Meerlust’s standout 1982 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon (sold for R23 450). Other Meerlust wines that performed well were a 1980 vintage of its Cabernet Sauvignon (sold for R18 760), a partial Rubicon Vertical encompassing the vintages 2004 to 2017 (sold for R17 588) and three magnums of the 2001 Rubicon (sold for R17 588). Six bottles of the 2009 Director’s Reserve from De Toren went for R19 933.

“The maiden 1999 Fusion V from De Toren fetched R4 173 per bottle, but the Mullineux sweet wines stole the show,” says Strauss & Co wine specialist Roland Peens. “The Mullineux Essence 2012 sold for R5 690 per 250ml bottle, which is surely a record price per volume for a young South African wine.”

The art department produced solid results across its various categories. Two extremely rare oil paintings by the celebrated nineteenth-century landscape painter Thomas Bowler from the Metropolitan Life Collection both found buyers. The larger of the two, a view of the early settlement at Port Elizabeth, sold for R284 500. Maggie Laubser’s 1924 composition Shepherd and Sheep sold for R1.6 million. Other notable historical paintings sold included Jean Welz’s 1945 nude composition Matisse’s Model (sold for R409 680) and Vladimir Tretchikoff’s flower study Poinsettia and Lilies (sold for R455 200).

Buyer interest in historical works from the Cape Wine Growers Association (KWV) Collection was pronounced. Formerly displayed at the Laborie Manor and KWV Sensorium in KWV’s La Concorde head office, both in Paarl, the consignment included Cecil Skotnes’s elaborate panel piece The Origin of Wine/The Epic of Gilgamesh, which sold to an online bidder for R910 400. A Skotnes still life painting sold for R625 900. Christo Coetzee’s Bolandse Bruid, a late bridal picture executed two years before the artist’s death in 2000, sold for R432 440.

Quality works by Alexis Preller remain highly sought after. A 1966 relief painting titled Constellation sold to a telephone bidder for R739 700. Abstract Janus, a colourful oil from the Alexis Preller and Guna Massyn Collection, sold for R682 800. Two small figurative Preller oils also did well: Cone Shell from the Late Peter and Regina Strack Collection sold to a room bidder for R250 360, and The Blue Fish from 1948 sold to a telephone bidder for R250 360.

Original works by English artist Banksy and Los Angeles artist Mr Brainwash, two trailblazers of the disruptive early 2000s street art scene, ranked among the top contemporary art lots sold. Banksy’s Happy Choppers, an editioned silkscreen with an anti-war message, fetched R967 300. This is the first time Strauss & Co has offered a work by this globally renowned artist. A unique silkscreen and spray-paint work by Mr Brainwash (aka French-born Thierry Guetta) depicting singer Madonna sold for R1 million. An enfant terrible of the post-war New York art scene, Larry Rivers’ 1956 study of his lover, Head of Molly, sold for R432 440.

All six lots by William Kentridge, South Africa’s foremost contemporary artist, sold. Two Kentridge head compositions from the early 1990s attracted special interest. A proof of the 1993 drypoint etching Head sold to online bidder for R1.25 million. The top photo lot was Pieter Hugo’s group portrait, The Hyena Men of Abuja, Nigeria, 2005, which sold for R284 500. Another portrait from Hugo’s breakthrough portrait series, Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis and Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, 2005, achieved R204 840.

Other photographs that did well included Mohau Modisakeng’s self-portrait Endabeni 2 (sold for R204 840), Mikhael Subotzky’s Fancy Dress Competition, Beaufort West (sold for R170 700) and Simphiwe Ndzube’s mixed-media photo Inevitable Journey to Mars IV (sold for R 216 220).

Strauss & Co’s next sale is an online-only sale of works by celebrated Namibian printmaker John Muafangejo from the Orde Levinson Collection. The sale commences on Monday, 26 April and concludes on Monday, 3 May 2021.

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