Writing Art History Since 2002

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This Monday past, 12 November, three seminal works by Alexis Preller were included in the auction by Strauss & Company namely; Girl with Oriole, Grand Mapogga III and Anubis.

The auction realised in excess of R33 000 000 and many in the audience were astounded when ten of the paintings offered realised more than three times their presale estimate.

One in particular Girl with an Oriole by Alexis Preller with a presale estimate of R600 000 sold for just over R4 000 000, more than six times its presale estimate.

The timelessness of Alexis Preller’s iconography had been unequivocally demonstrated through the prices in excess of two million rand previously achieved by Strauss & Co in 2010 and the inclusion of these works was of particular delight of collectors of top quality South African art. Commonly referred to as “South Africa’s Gauguin” Preller’s iconography in his compositions is unparalleled in its universal visual language and unique African identity. Girl with Oriole is steeped in cultural reference: the beadwork seen draped on her shoulder is a nod to Pedi and Ntwana wares, the background textiles evocative of Swazi cloth, and the sitters pose harks to Florentine Quattrocento painting. Grand Mapogga III is a highly significant work. Throughout his career, Preller revisited this subject numerous times –eccentrically believing that there should be three versions of any major work. This example, the third of the second trinity of works engaging this theme, was purchased by the current owner’s father at the 1957 exhibition held at Vorster’s Gallery in Pretoria – where all three versions of this painting were on show. Anubis is a densely worked composition featuring rows of hieroglyphic forms running vertically throughout the canvas. Central to this composition is the figure of Anubis, the jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion. The dark ground is punctuated by glints of gold and splashes of vermillion and sapphire tones, a rich composition and palette, true to the mythological subject it depicts.

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