Bonhams holds worlds first South African Art sale in London

On Wednesday 23 May 2007, Bonhams will become the first international auction house in the world to hold a sale dedicated to South African art outside of South Africa. The sale will be held in London at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street – the salerooms, which saw world record prices achieved for Gerard Sekoto’s work last year.

Having secured international recognition in 2006 for achieving exceptional prices for South African art in London, Bonhams is now the market leader in this field.

Bonhams’ first South African Art Sale will feature paintings and sculpture by the country’s major artists, including Irma Stern (1894-1966), Gerard Sekoto (1913-1993), Maggie (Maria Magdalena) Laubser (1886-1973), and Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957). Many of the artists’ works have never appeared on the international auction scene before.

Thirteen separate paintings by the “new favourite” Sekoto will appear in the sale with estimates ranging from £1,000 to £100,000 (R15,000-1,500,000). ‘Wash Day’ is expected to fetch the most money and it dates from the artist’s Eastwood period, when Sekoto found a vitality for new subjects away from Cape Town’s city life. It is expected to fetch £70,000-100,000 (R1,100,000-1,500,000). Another work, ‘The Waiting Room’, is expected to fetch £50,000-80,000 for a work by the artist and will be sold on behalf of the Joan St. Leger Lindbergh Arts Foundation. Lot 117, is the deeply evocative ‘Guga Mzimba’, which can be dated to around 1939 when the artist was working in Sophiatown near Johannesburg. The painting, estimated at £25,000-35,000 (R380,000-530,000), depicts an old man sitting on the floor wearily looking as if he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. It is a good representation of one of Sekoto’s favourite sayings, “Guga mzimba sala intliziyo”, which translates as: “The body is old but the heart is still strong.”

“We have sold more paintings by the artist than any other auction house,” says Giles Peppiatt, Bonhams’ Director of South African Art. “However, the picture which excites me most in the sale is Lot 23 – The White Farmhouse by Peter Venning (1873-1921). It is one of the best examples of the artist’s work to be sold at auction in many years. Venning usually worked on small scale paintings and to be offering a work of this scale and importance is exceptional.” The White Farmhouse measures 45 x 61 cm and is expected to fetch £30,000-60,000 (R460,000-760,000).

Top lot in the sale will be a painting by the internationally acclaimed Irma Stern, who was known for putting a “Do not Disturb” sign on her studio door while she worked. She aimed to finish each painting in a single sitting, and if she painted a portrait she would often look closely at the model initially and then half close her eyes while she painted. ‘The Tomato Picker’, offered at £80,000-100,000 (R1,200,000-1,800,000), belonged to a series of her 1960s pictorial works of labourers, such as, in her own words: “field workers, grape harvesters and fishermen – people who occupy themselves with everlasting things.” The January tomato harvest was an important time of year as it represented a major crop for the farmers and as such would have fascinated Stern.

The South African Sale will go on view to the public at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, London from Friday 18 May.