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Never-before-seen South African modernist masterpiece explodes onto European market
‘Adam’ by Alexis Preller mixing African & European legends.

JOHANNESBURG.- An electrifying Alexis Preller (1911-1975) oil painting from 1972 titled ‘Adam’ comes fresh to market with leading South African auctioneer, Aspire Art Auctions.

This never previously seen work will be sold on October 28th in Johannesburg for an estimated £435 000 – £544 000. It was acquired directly from the artist and has stayed with the same family by descent.

He trained in the UK at the Westminster School of Art from which he graduated during 1934 and attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris during 1937. He was especially influenced by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, and visited European galleries and museums to study these artists’ works. Today his work commands prices ranging from £250,000 to £500,000.

Preller is one of the handful of South African artists whose work has found an appreciative international audience. The value of his work has risen alongside the new boom in Contemporary African Art and Preller works find a place increasingly in Contemporary Art sales rather than sales of South African art.

This Adam figure shows all the hallmark signs of the artist’s vision of an alternative universe, informed strongly by African myth and legend, but also by the themes and images of European and Classical antiquity. As an artist he was years ahead of his time with his interest in gender ambiguity linked to his understanding of classical culture.

‘Adam’ is one of a small group of Adamic figures that concerned Alexis Preller in his late career. He was interested in both Adam as the first human figure and also as a version of the Apollo of Classical antiquity, in many ways an ideal of male beauty.

This current work for auction fits exactly within this group, and demonstrates many of the key characteristics of Preller’s imagining of the male psyche in his oeuvre and in his personal mythography. In the Adamic and Apollonian works around this time there is often a gender ambiguity, and a certain eroticism, which this Adam figure embodies. Its saturated colour palette is also characteristic of some of his later work.

Ruarc Peffers, MD of Aspire, says: “This rare and unique painting, which was one of only five works Preller selected to represent him at the São Paulo Biennale of 1973, is one that will tantalize his collector base. The market for his work remains strong – especially with respect to significant, museum-quality examples like this one, with this standard of exhibition history, enthusiastically endorsed by the artist himself and hailed as one of his top works at the time. We anticipate a very positive response.”

The work of Alexis Preller remains among the most collectible in South Africa, and his reputation has steadily risen in the secondary market in the 40 years since his last exhibition.

Preller was a unique figure in the history of South African art. His style evolved as an amalgam of different reference points and art histories, with his early exposure to European modernism in his years spent in the UK and France, and then with his committed interest in history and anthropology, in his travels in both Europe and Africa.

Aspire Art Auctions has seen several highlights in sales of Preller’s work to his dedicated collectors over the last few years. In 2016, Preller’s Profile figures (Mirrored image) from 1967, sold for a remarkable £375,000 (R7 048 160), one of the top prices ever fetched for his work, and the record price at auction for that year.

The personal cosmology that marked his later work was again in evidence in another work sold by Aspire in March this year for £240,000 (R4, 547 200). Gold Angel (Arêté) dates from 1970, and is one of Preller’s signature intaglio relief paintings which characterised the last few years of his career. A floating head in profile that combines many features of the deistic belief systems the artist was interested in, including Yoruba and ancient Egypt, it is a remarkable and compelling work.

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