In what can only be read as an affirmation of South African art and artists, Strauss & Co posted a new record turnover for an individual online-only sale. Timed to coincide with its parallel participation in the virtual edition of the recent RMB Turbine Art Fair (27 August – 2 September), Strauss & Co’s fifth online-only auction of 2020 grossed R7 288 495.
The 12-session sale featured 719 individual lots, of which 528 sold (73.44% lot sell-through rate). The sale attracted over 800 bidders from 15 countries. Bidders aged between 40 and 59 constituted the largest segment of virtual auction-goers.
“Even discounting the five sessions devoted to important charity causes, which collectively brought in a much-needed R1.3 million in cash relief, we still posted a fantastic headline result,” says Bina Genovese, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director. “The nearly R6 million earned from this sale of art, fine wine and decorative arts surpassed the total achieved in our July online-sale, which earned R5.6 million. The continued richness of Strauss & Co’s online offering coupled with a rapidly maturing attitude to buying and selling exclusively online saw robust bidding for works in all three of our departments.”
Art has always dominated the top-selling individual works offered by Strauss & Co. This auction was no different, although as with previous online-only auctions the rankings once again reflect the pleasing unpredictability of collector tastes. The five top-selling individual lots bore the signatures of three living artists, a long-deceased Dutch-born landscape painter and much-admired Portuguese-born architect who also practiced as a sculptor and painter.
Johannesburg artist Nelson Makamo’s 2012 portrait Boy with Glasses was the top-selling lot in the September online sale, achieving R234 500. This was followed by Cape Town-based Caryn Scrimgeour’s handsome table-setting painting Kiss Me, which fetched R140 700. Still widely admired long after his death in 1942, Tinus de Jongh’s depiction of the Twelve Apostles sold for R111 388. Influential architect Pancho Guedes achieved R105 525 for his satirical oil, Board Meeting, presented in an original artist-designed frame. Rounding off the top-five lots was Johannesburg artist Sam Nhlengethwa’s pensive study of a solitary street figure, Definitely Waiting for Someone, which sold for R93 800.
The Guedes sale result far surpassed the pre-sale estimate of R5 000. Guedes, who studied architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand and many decades later led its renowned architecture department, is widely celebrated for his eclectic modernist style of architecture. In 2008, the South African National Gallery in Cape Town presented an exhibition surveying his architectural work.
Notable highlights from the fine-wine session included the handsome prices achieved by the Riebeek-Kasteel winery Porseleinberg for its Syrah vintages. Porseleinberg winemaker Callie Louw’s 2015 vintage fetched R12 898 and the 2012 vintage achieved R 11 725. But it was the 2010 vintage that proved the most attractive to collectors, selling for R15 243. Other noteworthy results include Alheit’s Magnetic North Mountain Makstok (2016), which sold for R10 553 and Walker Bay winery Crystallum’s Cuvée Cinéma (2015), which achieved R9 380. All these lots comprised six bottles each.The decorative arts session also saw strong bidding, with strong results posted across the various categories. Long established as a collectable, silver proved its durability with works from a range of time periods selling over estimate. The top-selling lot was a George V five-piece silver tea service by Stevenson & Law of Sheffield (1920–1927), which sold for R41 038. A George IV silver three-piece tea service by Thomas & George Hayter of London (1822–23) sold for R22 278 and a silver waiter from the same period by Rebecca Emes & Edward Barnard of London (1825) achieved R10 553. A Victorian silver teapot by The Barnards of London (1842) sold for R17 588. Much like the silverware, the furniture highlights tracked various time periods. The best-performing lots included a Globe-Wernicke Co Limited metal-bound oak legal bookcase, which sold for R22 278, and a George II-style giltwood mirror, which achieved R30 485. The top-selling furniture lot comprised a set of eight Danish teak dining chairs from the mid-twentieth century, which sold for R37 520.
Tableware also performed well. An assembled Copeland Spode “Camilla” pattern blue and white earthenware part dinner and part tea service sold for R35 175. A pair of nineteenth century Emile Gallé Nancy St Clément blue and white faience candle holders sold for R16 415. The online sale included five sessions devoted to charity causes, four of which were established to address economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The GolfSA Help Fund, created to benefit caddies and golf’s vulnerable workers, raised R300 160. A session aimed at raising funds for the Dassenberg Horse and Dog Rescue Centre on the West Coast and Red Cross Society in Greyton raised R409 789. Works donated by contemporary artists and patrons of Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room in Cape Town, which faces closure, raised R215 740. The Stilled Life charity session, which featured 30 photographs by up-and-coming artists, raised R26 382 for BASA’s Artist Relief Fund.
Three young South African classical musicians with dreams of studying music in the United Kingdom will benefit from the R348 702 raised by the Quartet of Peace session. Highlights from this particular session included large reproductions of vintage editions of Drum magazine. A 1957 cover featuring Miriam Makeba, photographed by the recently deceased Drum photographer Jürgen Schadeberg, sold for R32 830. A 1957 photo of Nelson Mandela in boxing wardrobe, taken by Drum photographer Bob Gosani, also fetched R32 830, also well above estimate.
Strauss & Co has waivered its usual commissions on works sold in the charity sessions.