Bonhams Announces Sale of South African Art in London on October 26

Love is a strong theme running through the next sale of South African Art at Bonhams on October 26th in London. It is evident in all three works by the country’s major artists, Stern, Pierneef and Preller.

With Pierneef this emotion is evident in his powerful evocation of a landscape he loved – Kransberg near Rustenburg in the Transvaal. This image recalls Cezanne’s tribute to Mont Saint Victoire, and is estimated to sell for £400,000-600,000.

“Far deeper…than the professional delight of the painter’s eye in colour, form and line of the landscape, there lies hidden in Pierneef that filial feeling, that adoration of our ground; it is the secret flame that gives to his ripest works their intrinsic eloquence,” comments art critic and writer, J.F.W. Grosskopf, about Pierneef. This artist recast the way in which we see Africa.

Of Pierneef’s 1950s landscapes Anton Hendriks wrote, “Pierneef painted Africa. His landscapes were different from anything seen in paint before. Baines, Oerder and others had painted the same scenes, but Pierneef saw them with new eyes. He created a new style out of this new subject matter.” He demonstrates the beauty of nature’s architecture and the way in which it enthralls him.

With Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966) the love and passion are linked to that rare thing in her work, a portrait of a man. In ‘Portrait of a man wearing a hat’ signed and dated ‘Irma Stern 1931’, estimated to sell for £350,000-500,000, we see Stern exploring something of her own heartache.

Several works from her time in Madeira are among her darkest, in particular her views of harlots and other societal outcasts, and reflect the emotional upheaval Stern was experiencing at the time – unhappily married, reckoning with the memory of her Portuguese lover, Hippolyto Raposo, and perhaps not warmly welcomed by the locals. Despiten this Stern painted some of her best works during her time in Madeira, in particular bright landscapes and portraits of men which celebrate the light, colour, and simple way of life of Madeira. One can surmise that through the lens of her previous Portuguese lover Hippolyto Raposo, Stern viewed the men of Madeira with a certain romantic enthusiasm. Translated onto canvas, Portrait of a man wearing a hat is a rare, touching and haunting portrait of a male that is rarely seen in Stern’s oeuvre.

While she loved the light and colour of the island, she was also working extremely hard and became troubled by her perceptions of the position of the local women in the island’s traditional patriarchal Catholic society. She wrote her thoughts in her texts from the time: “The women are like the cows – they work in the fields – in the houses – they drag heavy loads… A woman is not a person, she is a female – a sexual being, and must be protected carefully against the lust of men.”

It seems that at least some of Stern’s difficulties in Madeira were due to her outsider status. She was a cosmopolitan in rural society, a Jew amongst Catholics, a woman on her own in a patriarchal society and she found it difficult to access the types of subjects she had previously focused on.

With Alexis Preller (1911-1975) we see an even darker side of love in his painting ‘Wounded Sculpture’ signed and dated ’47’ which is estimated to sell for £300,000-500,000.

Following a break with his long-time partner Christi Truter and a subsequent suicide attempt, Alexis Preller travelled to Europe at the end of 1946. In Paris, he frequented the galleries as a means of soothing his troubled mind. In the Louvre he examined the collections of marble sculpture from Ancient Greece for the second time. He had previously seen them in 1937, prior to his service in the military during World War II. Returning to them with a new perspective on life, Preller viewed them, rather like himself, as victims broken by the ravages of life.

Image: Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (South African, 1886-1957)
Kransberg, Rustenburg, Transvaal

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