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Strauss & Co to offer museum quality masterworks by South Africa's leading artists
Harvesters in Wheatfield by Maggie Laubser.

JOHANNESBURG.- Strauss & Co announced its largest-ever live auction by value, with combined estimates for its 12 November sale in Johannesburg exceeding R80 million. The sale has 26 lots with estimates of R1 million or more, and includes works of astonishing range and depth by notable modernist painters Maggie Laubser, JH Pierneef, Alexis Preller and Irma Stern.

Based in Cape Town and Johannesburg, Strauss & Co is the global leader for South African art. It holds five live sales annually, including one sale that is solely devoted to contemporary art. Strauss & Co has sold nine of the ten most expensive paintings ever auctioned in South Africa.

Irma Stern’s 1941 portrait of a Mary Cramer, a sister of the artist’s confidante, Freda Feldman, carries the sale’s highest estimate (estimate R5 – 7 million). This extraordinary portrait, notes art historian Federico Freschi, was once displayed in Feldman’s emerald-green dining room and captures “the complexities and contradictions that lie beneath the masks of outward appearance”.

The Johannesburg sale features 11 lots by Stern. They include a fine selection of her society and travel portraits, notably the gouache works Congo Woman from 1942 (estimate R2 – 3 million) and Lady of the Harem from 1945 (estimate R3 – 4 million). Stern also excelled in the still life genre. Notable works in this category include Still Life with Irises from 1941 (estimate R4 – 5 million) and the sumptuous Still Life with Watermelon, Flowers and Grapes from 1933 (estimate 1.8 – 2.4 million).

Stern is the top-selling artist at Strauss & Co’s auctions, followed by JH Pierneef who has 17 works on the present sale. Best known for his expertly choreographed South African scenes, including Farm Jonkershoek with Twin Peaks Beyond, Stellenbosch, which sold for R20.46 million at a 2017 Strauss & Co sale, the forthcoming sale includes two stylised and highly uncommon landscapes depicting foreign landscapes from his travels depicting the Seychelles and Dar es Salaam.

Cinnamon Mill, Seychelles (estimate R4 – 5 million) is an unusual post-impressionist study of tropical abundance. It was painted in 1954 during a holiday, long after Pierneef first heard of the East African island from his mentor, Frans Oerder. Dar es Salaam (estimate R4 – 6 million) is a verdant townscape complete with Pierneef’s ever-present cumulus cloud formations looming on the horizon.

The Johannesburg sale includes two exceptional casein landscapes from 1928, both linked to the Schweickerdt family in Pretoria: Lowveld Eastern Transvaal (estimate R3 – 4 million) is a mesmerising kaleidoscope of acutely observed natural colours, while Willow Trees, Roodeplaat Dam, (estimate R2 – 3 million) is a mosaic of autumnal colours.

Pierneef’s precise draughtsmanship was the bedrock of his esteemed painting practice. Collectors will delight in his three works depicting tobacconist Lodewijk de Jager & Co, Tobacconist Shop, where the artist worked in the early 1900s; the two watercolours and a pencil drawing capture Pierneef’s fine sense for architectural detail (sold as one lot, estimate R200 000 – 300 000).

Strauss & Co will be offering nine oils by pioneering expressionist Maggie Laubser. Five are from the Estate of a Gentleman and this impeccable consignment includes her study of labour, Harvesters in Wheatfield (estimate R2 – 3 million) which features on the cover of Dalene Marais’ catalogue raisonne’ of the artist and forms an important part of this sale offering of Laubser lots.

Alexis Preller has in recent years become a sought-after artist at auction. In 2010, Strauss & Co registered the first upswing in value of Preller’s work when it sold The Flower King, a late-period metaphorical portrait from 1970, for R 2.89 million. Preller has five lots on sale in Johannesburg, including Apple II, a late-career intaglio with painted hollow that was produced in 1969 (estimate R4 – 5 million). African Profile (R1 – 1.5 million) dates from the start of Preller’s Gold period in 1965.

Two years ago, Strauss & Co successfully brought a number of important Prellers to market, some owned by prominent collector Walter Hardebeck. The sale includes a contemporary art component as well with major names like William Kentridge, Robert Hodgins and Diane Victor, also strongly represented.

The sale of these outstanding works is preceded by a session dedicated to under-recognised historical artists. The “Unsung History” session offers collectors an expansive view of South African art history at a time of growing international interest in South African art.

All the lots will be available for viewing at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg from Friday 9 November until shortly before the premier evening sale commences at 8pm on Monday 12 November.

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