Sekoto & Pierneef Paintings for Bonhams Auction

Bonhams sale of South African art on March 24th in London boasts stunning works by Sekoto and Pierneef, two of the sub continents leading artists.

A glorious glowing Gerard Sekoto (South African, 1913-1993) oil painting, titled ‘Market Street Scene, Cape Town’ 35.5 x 45.7cm (14 x 18in) is without doubt the highlight of this sale. A precursor to the iconic ‘Houses, District Six’, it is estimated to sell for £120,000-180,000.

In 1942, Sekoto moved to Cape Town to further his artistic career. He lived with his cousins in District Six, whose home overlooked the Roeland Street jail. His desire to move through the country emanated from a curiosity to discover South Africa and its people as well as to widen his artistic experience.

He was welcomed into the Cape Town artistic community and was invited in 1944 to join the prestigious New Group, the membership of which was mainly well-known white artists. He befriended trade unionist Max Gordon, artists Solly Disner, Louis Maurice, Lippy Lipschitz and Paul Kosten, who became a life long friend. He exhibited in various shows in Cape Town, attracting media attention, admiration and an ever-widening group of buyers. In 1945, Sekoto left District Six for Eastwood, Pretoria, but he was already planning on leaving South Africa for Europe, never to return.

It was during this short, highly productive District Six period that ‘Market Street Scene’ was painted. District Six was a vibrant residential area in the centre of Cape Town, home to over 60,000 Cape Malays, coloureds, blacks, whites and Asian people. The area was later bulldozed and the residents scattered to the wind-lashed Cape flats, causing an international outcry.

City life and the mixture of people he encountered there fascinated Sekoto. Here he depicts a busy city street scene, featuring commuters and characters from all walks of life. The commute was a common theme for Sekoto, who often depicted people on buses, trains and bicycles as well as on foot. Sekoto sought to make sense of the vitality of life in the city by illustrating the novelty of his environment. At first he approached this newness with the eyes of a visitor, and thus as a theatrical scene: “all these various types of people: women with baskets of shopping, some carrying baggage on their heads or shoulders. Men of various styles walking and clothing…”

The picture was acquired directly from the artist by Pola Pasvolsky (née Katz) (1919-1999), shortly after her wedding to Issie Pasvolsky, chairman of the Golden Arrow Bus Company, and following her death was sold at auction in 1999.

Two Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957) oils in this sale stand out as strong examples of his work and style – ‘An extensive view of farmlands’, painted circa 1945, estimated at £180,000-250,000, and ‘Port in the Seychelles’ dated 1954 and estimated at £30,000-50,000.

The geometric quality of ‘An extensive view of farmlands’, with its patchwork of fields, mountains and trees, its simplicity of line and colour, can be ascribed to his graphic training. 1925 was a time of intense production for Pierneef, who spent the latter half of the year travelling and exhibiting in Europe. The influences of Art Nouveau, late Impressionism, and the landscapes of Paul Cézanne in particular, neo-Impressionism and of course Cubism are all evident in the present lot.

‘Port in the Seychelles’ depicts the sleepy harbour of Port Victoria in the Seychelles. In August 1954, following the completion of a difficult commission of a large painting of Pretoria, Pierneef and his wife May went to the Seychelles for three months to relax, fish, and paint a different type of scenery from the bushveld he was used to.

A South African art sale at Bonhams would not be complete without works by Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966). This sale offers two still-lifes that bookend her career: ‘Still life of irises’, a luscious oil on canvas, dated 1961 (estimate £100,000-150,000) and ‘Still life of fish and flowers’ dated 1920, an oil on canvas estimated at a relatively modest £40,000-60,000. The latter painting was given by the artist as a wedding gift to her cousin, the daughter of Erna Harris (née Fels), and comes through direct descent to the current owner.

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