Makhanda and the “Grahamstown Group” feature prominently in an online auction of art from the Eastern Cape from the 1860s to 2010 that went live today. This will be the second online sale with an Eastern Cape focus by Strauss & Co. The first took place in August 2022.
This year’s Eastern Cape focus is spearheaded by senior art specialist Ian Hunter, who hails from the province and has a personal knowledge of the province’s significant artistic outputs from his time as a curator at the Ann Bryant National Gallery and as a lecturer in the area.
What made this year’s Eastern Cape focus so special was its high quality of offerings across different time periods, said Hunter.
“It features works from the 1860s to 2010. Some of the artists represented were born in the province, others have visited or studied there, but all the artists included in the session, have at some time, painted, lived in, or travelled through the Eastern Cape,” Hunter said.
Strauss & Co’s July timed online auction opens on Monday 2 July, and will have three sessions, offering buyers a curated selection of modern and contemporary art with a dedicated Eastern Cape focus. This themed auction will open with the latest iteration of Strauss & Co’s Art Club session as well as an Impression/Expression session in the sale.
The three centres of Eastern Cape artistic output
Three “centres of output” are used to inform the Eastern Cape session: East London, Gqeberha, and Makhanda. While the latter features most prominently, the session outlines each city as a unique site of artistic production.
Highlights include lots from the “Grahamstown Group”, the art movement led by Brian Bradshaw who, during the 1960s, was a professor of Fine Art at Rhodes University.
“There was a lot said about Bradshaw,” Hunter said. “He had a controversial persona with strong views surrounding his vision of the art school’s identity. These, he reinforced vociferously, advocating a no-frills approach which won the art school a recognisable appearance and reputation; characterised by monumental natural forms, lively painterly mark-making with bold colour use. Hylton Nel really enjoyed Bradshaw’s art classes, as well as Penny Siopis, who flourished there.” Bradshaw’s own Spitzkoppe, Namibia (estimate R20 000 – R30 000) will also form part of the sale.
The session features an assortment of Nel’s figurative sculptures and decorated bowls, each adorned with his quirky use of colour and design. A work by Siopis, made during the period that she studied under Bradshaw, will also feature. Other artists from the Grahamstown group represented in the sale are Robert Brooks, Noel Hodnett, Estelle Marais, and Jennifer Crooks. Two of the “later members” of the Grahamstown group on the session are Cathy Layzell and Hermann Niebuhr who represent a later generation of practicing artists.
Other highlights include a wonderful assortment of sculptures by Neil Rodger, Anton Momberg, and Norman Catherine, ceramic works by Hylton Nel and Andile Dyalvane, and tapestries by Cecil Skotnes and the Keiskamma Art Project.
Standout lots include Garden gate, New Brighton a watercolour by George Pemba (estimate R30 000 – R40 000) – “It’s a charming little watercolour of a street scene and a garden wall, but imbued with a lovely poetry,” says Hunter – and an atypical work by Brooks titled Towards Iona (estimate at R25 000 – R35 000). A large-scale square painting (120cm by 120cm), it depicts a receding watery expanse with distinctive calligraphic marks replicating the surface of water.
Altogether, the works comprising the Eastern Cape focus do well to provide a sense of the people, flora, and landscape that have characterised the region. Evident in this selection of works is “the distinctive geomorphology and flora of the region, the Euphorbia trees, the prickly pears, and verdant hillsides,” says Hunter.
Estelle Marais’ Tyumie Valley Fantasy’, from her time at Fort Hare, is a gentle representation of the fauna of the Eastern Cape, depicting a landscape with sheep. Two Hodnett’s will also go under the hammer, namely Feather Market, PE which provides a curvy street view sloping down towards the Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) harbour, and Prickly pear Tree, a much more expressionistic work.
Notably, the sale features three works by the frontier artist Frederick I’Ons who arrived in Makhanda in 1834 and recorded people, events, and places of the region. “He was an artist for hire, so he painted chieftains from the royal Xhosa Kingdom, and he also painted many of the British commanders,” explains Hunter. Howison’s Poort which depicts the curving stretch of road that runs past the Stone Crescent Hotel just to the south-west of Makhanda, and the detailed Figures crossing a Drift are two of the I’Ons works in the sale.
As part of its ongoing educational drive and coinciding with the monthly online auctions, Strauss & Co continues its much-anticipated Art Club events. Alternating between the Cape Town and Johannesburg offices, Art Club has been designed for those interested in the auction scene, whether new or seasoned collectors.
July’s Art Club themed session will open the timed online sale and will be comprised of “predominantly contemporary artists informed by staff choices”. This includes works by Sanell Aggenbach, Paul Blomkamp, Robert Slingsby, Durant Sihlali, Kendell Geers, Wim Botha, Nico Masemola, Frances Goodman, the Essop Brothers, Mikhael Subotzsky, Guy Tillim, David Goldblatt, and Ronél de Jager amongst others.
The third session of the sale will be Impression/Expression, a session designed to help make sense of some of the many stylistic and conceptual shifts that have taken place in South African art over the past century. These two movements provide an international aesthetic context for so many of our finest artists, while also providing context for artists whose work contained overlapping attributes in terms of technique, period, or method.
“These are the traditional 20th century artists that we handle, and some works worthy of mention would be some lovely studies by Alexander Rose-Innes and Gregoire Boonzaier, and some sparkling Hugo Naudé compositions to name just a few.”
EASTERN CAPE FURNITURE
Strauss&Co’s decorative arts department will also be featuring some first-rate examples of Eastern Cape furniture. Says Decorative Arts Coordinator, Jill van Dugteren, “We have some interesting pieces from the Eastern Cape, including two 19th century rusbanks and a set of six Cape Regency stinkwood chairs by Peter Friederick Siegruhn from Barkly East, making use of a distinctive shell and swan-neck motif. A similar motif can be seen on the apron of an Eastern Cape stinkwood bone inlaid chest-of drawers.”
Strauss & Co’s July timed online sales open for bidding on Monday, 3 July at 8.00am. The auctions close in one-minute intervals from 2pm on Monday 10 July.
To register, browse, bid or buy visit www.straussart.co.za