South African art is currently all the rage, locally and abroad. Several auctions held in October and November 2010 have set new records price-wise and alerted the art world to the works of South African artists.
On 11 October, an Irma Stern painting from 1939, Gladioli, was sold for record R13 million on an auction in Cape Town. Only about two weeks later, on 27 October, that record was surpassed by the price paid for another Stern’s painting, a 1945 Bahora Girl, which was sold to the highest bidder in a London auction for R26.42 million.
Irma Stern (1894-1966) is one of South Africa’s masters. The records set by her two paintings are only the tip of the heights that artworks coming out of South Africa have been achieving lately, at home and abroad.
The October 11 Cape Town auction netted almost R44 million. Besides the R13 million Stern, several other works broke the one million rands benchmark. Two of Maggie Laubser's oil paintings, Flamingos on the Beach and Landscape with White Stork, sold for R2.67 and R1.78 respectively. And at R2.45 million, Stanley Pinker's painting, The Wheel of Life, became one of the highest-paid works by a contemporary South African artist.
The 27 October London auction featuring 151 South African paintings and sculptures made a total of R66 million.
Besides the sensational R26.42 for the Bahora Girl, another Irma Stern, still life Gladioli on a Draped Table (1949) fetched R5.89 million. Bosveld by Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957) was sold for R7.86 million, Alexis Preller’s Apollo Kouros 1 sold for R2.77 million, and Ruth Everard Haden’s Serenitas Fulgens went for R1.58 million, making it a world record price for this artist.
The Cape Town and London amazing run was followed by the Johannesburg auction of South African art held on 1 November. That auction pulled in more than R66 million and has been touted the highest single auction total of the year for any South African art anywhere in the world.
At the Johannesburg auction, new records were set for paintings by Maude Sumner and Pieter Wenning. After vigorous bidding, Maud Sumner's Nature Morte achieved ten times its estimate to sell for R2.45 million. And at R1.22 million, Pieter Wenning’s the Union Buildings was the best-ever price paid for any work by this artist.
Works by Irma Stern also performed well in the Johannesburg auction, with two of her paintings going for R11,1 million and R8,4 million. One Pierneef, titled Baobab Tree, fetched R7,6 million and another, Barberton en Nelshoogte, R5,8 million.
The three auctions surpassed expectations and made history for South African art. The prices achieved show that South African art has come of age and that there is investment confidence in local art. Of course, it is only the very topmost that can soar that high: works by Stern, Pierneef, Pinker, Cecil Skotnes, George Pemba, William Kentridge, to name but a few.
It is also interesting to note that the Antiques Trade Gazette has pointed out a fact that all other art experts seem to have forgotten. While everybody else hailed the R26.42 million paid for Stern’s Bahora Girl on 11 October in London as the highest amount ever achieved for a work by a South African artist to date, the Gazette maintains that the record belongs to the South-African born contemporary artist Marlene Dumas (now living in Holland): her 1995 painting The Visitor made R30.82 on an auction in London in July 2008.
Images: Bahore Girl by Irma Sern and The Visitor by Marlene Dumas.