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South African splendour: Key works from Gerard Sekoto's time in South Africa lead at Bonhams
Three School Girls, Gerard Sekoto, estimate: £120,000-180,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Widely recognised as a pioneer for black South African modern art, Gerard Sekoto, (1913-1993) leads Bonhams South African Sale. The top two lots Three School Girls (estimate: £120,000-180,000) and Portrait of a Man Seated (estimate: £100,000-£150,000) were both acquired from the Gainsborough Galleries in Johannesburg and have remained in the same hands for over 50 years. Seen for the first time since they were exhibited in the late 1940s, they will be offered on the 2nd October in Bonhams New Bond Street saleroom.

Gerard Sekoto was born in 1913 - son of a missionary and school teacher on the German Lutheran Mission Station in Botshabelo, South Africa, before he moved to Johannesburg in 1938.

On arrival, he was shocked by the measures taken to exploit and alienate the black population. Despite the oppressive nature of the regime, Sekoto focused on capturing the humanity of ordinary daily life within the black communities. He achieved widespread recognition for his vibrant depictions of diverse urban life and his use of juxtaposing bold colours to the capture the individuals in the townships.

After the rise of racial segregation in South Africa Sekoto moved to Paris in 1947, in an act of (self-imposed) political exile. As a result, the art he created from those pre-exile years has become some of his most sought-after works.

Three School Girls, painted in the early 1940s, and Portrait of a Man Seated, are prime examples of this. Inspired by the artist’s experience of life in Eastwood, a township on the outskirts of Pretoria, Sekoto’s depictions of the township communicate the camaraderie between its inhabitants. The animated girls on their way to school and the equally intimate depiction of the seated man indicate a sense of calm, despite the tumultuous conditions they endured.

Giles Peppiatt, Head of South African Art, at Bonhams says ‘Gerard Sekoto became one of the first black artists to receive recognition on an international stage. His works challenged the racist rhetoric at the time by documenting and emphasizing the humanity of the sitters. We are delighted to offer these exceptional works in the sale’

Other highlights include:

• Irma Stern, A Spanish Town, 1961, estimated at £50,000-80,000, was executed when the artist visited Spain in 1961. Stern travelled extensively through Europe and South Africa capturing the unique landscapes through her vibrant expressionist manner.

• Peter Clarke, Strolling Couple, 1969, estimated at £30,000-50,000. The work, conceived in 1969, depicts a couple standing against a bold and brightly coloured cubist landscape. Clarke’s choice of medium, oil on board, is rare for the artist who, as a book illustrator, usually painted in watercolour on paper. One of Clarke’s greatest influences was Gerard Sekoto.

• A powerful and haunting charcoal by South Africa’s most famous living artist, William Kentridge (born 1955). The drawing, Drive-In (estimate £40,000-60,000), is a sketch from the animated film ‘Felix in Exile’. Produced in 1993, this was the fifth film in a series first begun in 1989, titled ‘Drawings for Projection’. Kentridge’s sketch reveals the detrimental impact of mining on the environment and its people.

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