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South African Art Times.
Dec 2009 - Jan 2010
The 2009 auction year in review By Michael Coulson Just how big is the SA art auction market? Well, the only thing you can be sure of is that any published figures -- including those in this article -- will be wrong. Some reasons for this are unavoidable: on the one side, itâ€™s not uncommon for works not sold on the night to be sold afterwards by public treaty; on the other, buyers caught away by the excitement of the night may subsequently renege (as apparently happened in large numbers at the Paris sale of the collection of the late Yves St Laurent). Neither of these events can be captured in the price lists auction houses put out immediately after the sale, which are what media reports and the housesâ€™ own PR releases are based on. Nor are they generally publicised later, the failed â€œTretchikoffâ€? at Graham Britzâ€™s sale of the Brett Kebble collection being a rare exception. The first event means that reports are understated, the second that they are overstated. Then, allowance must be made for publicity-related hype. In November, consultancy Artvault estimated Stephan Welz & Co (Swelco)â€™s art sales to that date at R40m. Swelco told the Financial Mail that they were in fact R55m, with another R15m expected in the November sale. When I asked Swelco deputy chairman Jack Rosewitz what Swelcoâ€™s total 2009 turnover was, and how much of it was art, he put the total at R100m, of which about R80m was art. By both Artvaultâ€™s and my calculations, this is a substantial overstatement. Artvaultâ€™s figure would gross up to about
R52m for the year, while I make it slightly less, at about R48.5m.
SA art but arguably not part of the SA art market.
Rosewitz, incidentally, tells me that Swelcoâ€™s total turnover (all departments) in 2008 was R180m, so it certainly took a big knock from Strauss. He admits Swelco had to cut its dividends but says itâ€™s still profitable and well capitalised, flatly denying market rumours a couple of months ago that he and chairman Mark Kretschmer had had to put in more capital. Turnover is back to where it was in 2006 when they took over, which was 50% up on the previous year. -
Errors and omissions excepted, these figures are remarkably symmetrical. They show that in its first year Strauss & Co captured as near as dammit 50% of the art auction market with the balance split equally by Britz and Swelco . Remarkably, too, some 45% came in two of the first three sales of the year, Straussâ€™s inaugural sale and the Kebble sale. These were for different reasons one-offs.
gest, indicating the impact this newcomer had. However, even it may not be immune from hype: Strauss claims its sales topped R100m. By my count, it grossed just R91.5m from art, with another R4.8m from its first furniture and silver sales, at its Cape sale. In a review of its year, Strauss chairman Elisabeth Bradley cites some of the artists for whom the house achieved record prices: Anton van Wouw, Irma Stern, Jean Welz (father, of course, of Stephan), Wolf Kibel, Frans Oerder, Freida Lock, Dorothy
By my count, there were nine sales by the three major auctioneers in 2009, summarised in the table below:
March April May May Aug Sep Oct Oct Nov
Strauss Swelco Britz Swelco Swelco Strauss Strauss Swelco Swelco
Venue Jhb Jhb Jhb CT Jhb Jhb CT CT Jhb
Sold by number# Sold by value* Gross revenue+ 87 83 92.5 79.5 71 73.5 83 70 77
123 70 101 76 75,5 102 75.5 93 107
37.0 6.0 50.6^ 7.6 7.8 23.5 33.5 14.8 12.3 193.1
- This compares with a grossedup figure from Artvault of about R235m, though they work on hammer prices while, in line with international practice, my prices include buyerâ€™s premium. On a comparable basis, the Artvault figure would probably be somewhere above R260m. Artvault also includes some (but not all) of the minor houses, like Pretoriaâ€™s Bernardi Bros, as well as sales in London, which it puts at R45m and are no doubt part of the market in
Ne w Ho m e Of
The Kebble sale was unique, and there can be no doubt Straussâ€™s Stephan Welz pulled out all the stops and used his unequalled contacts to ensure an unprecedented event. But for this, some of the lots may have been held back from 2008, others may have appeared later in the year and others may not even have come on to market at all. Still, after Kebble, Straussâ€™s sales were the yearâ€™s three big-
Kay, May Hillhouse and Edoardo Villa. As highlights, she mentions R7.24m, a world record for a Stern still life, R5.57m for Sternâ€™s portrait Carla, a world record both for the artist and an SA sculpture of R946 900 for Van Wouwâ€™s Noitjie van die Onderveld and a record R1.225m for Jean Welzâ€™s Still Life Cezannesque. Continued in Business Art
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Erik Laubscher South African Art Times.
Dec 2009 - Jan 2010
Landscapes and legacy
A long-awaited biography and retrospective at SMAC Art Gallery, Stellenbosch
This December, the artist, cultural activist, educator and big-time contributor to the local artistic scene can, with satisfaction (and no doubt a degree of nostalgia), look back at those heated days. He’ll have good reason, for his long-awaited biography has finally been elegantly published, and a decent retrospective exhibition is accompanying the launch at the SMAC gallery in Stellenbosch. For all his importance in South African art, up to now no book has been published about this man who started the famous Ruth Prowse School of Art (1971), founded the Artists’ Guild, the Artists’ Gallery (1965), the Cape Arts Forum (1980), and served for many years in the then dynamic SA Association of Arts. His art, its themes and execution, have not been thoroughly engaged with from an art-historical point of view. This is put right by Erik Laubscher: A Life in Art by Hans Fransen. Accompanied by the retrospective, it has been published by the SMAC where the exhibition continues until February. Fransen’s book finally records Laubscher’s personal history, and it tells a colourful and adventurous story. The book also has contributions by Elsa Miles and Abraham de Vries. If he couldn’t get the Cape Town city council to put up nicer Christmas lights, Erik Laubscher’s contribution to the local scene is to be found in many places.
One of the first things the hot-headed leader of the newly-formed Artists’ Guild did in 1979 was to appeal to the Cape Town city council to upgrade the annual ‘festive lights’ in Adderley street to something somewhat betterlooking, and of a little more aesthetic worth. Three decades down the line, the kitsch and silliness that stare us in the face in the Mother city’s main drag this December, is sure to irritate Erik Laubscher as much as then. (That fight against bureaucracy and foolishness was never won, but it was only one among many he did walk out as victor.)
Many lollers on Sea Point’s promenade have been puzzled by the facade of Bon Esperance, a tall, elegant apartment building on Beach Road. The eye-catching mosaic facade of dancing spikes and spooky figures is Laubscher’s work, a memorable invention of 1958. The 32-year-old artist, who had been taught and deeply inspired by the famous French painter and teacher Fernand Léger, called it Terrazzo Mural. It serves as apt Cape public marker. Also because the Laubschers had been residents in the neighbourhood for decades. (He and his wife Claude Bouscharain live famously in Green Point’s Cheviot Place.) Another important public work hangs in the foyer of the Artscape performing arts complex on the Foreshore. Commissioned for the inauguration in 1971, the large bright and colourful tapestry is one of the few of those original artworks that today still has an eye-catching presence. Over the years, the artist has had numerous commissions and sold major pieces to collectors. Among the public collections on his CV are those of Sanlam, Sasol, the Iziko SA National Gallery, SABC, Standard Bank, the Rembrandt Art Foundation, SA Reserve Bank, CSIR, Investec, KWV, Telkom, Didata, and the Deutsche Bank. (A few years ago, the post office used two of his paintings from the SANG collection on stamps).
South African Art Times.
Dec 2009 - Jan 2010
magnificent surrounding mountains by the age of seven. (Given his legacy as landscape artist, this is significant.) At the age of nineteen, he started formal art studies under the well-known Maurice van Essche’s Continental School of Art in Cape Town. A year later, he left for London for further studies. The years 1948 and 1949 were valuable, as Fransen records, for he studied portrait drawing under Frank Slater at the Anglo-French Centre. Laubscher has said that that taught him “to see things properly, to realise that the basis for drawing, is direct observation”. In 1950 he settled in Paris where studies under the famous artist Fernand Léger at the Académie Montmartre proved to be of great significance in his future career and later life. He also met his wife-to-be, artist Claude Bouscharain, here. Post-war Paris had a great influence on the enterprising, enthusiastic artist before he returned to Cape Town in 1952.
In February this year, Erik Laubscher turned 82. He is as breezy and clear-eyed as ever and has keenly co-operated with Fransen on the book and the curators of the SMAC show. Earlier this year, in March, he got a shock. It made the news that a Erik Laubscher painting, the 1953 Still-life with mandolin, sheet music and fruit, was sold to an unnamed buyer for R1.2 million in a hotly-contested Stephen Welz & Co auction at Kirstenbosch. The Cape Times reported that the sale was a record-breaking amount for a living South African artist. The artist told the newspaper he was dumb struck. He had given the painting to a friend, who was emigrating to England way back, as a gift. This is typical of the artist’s life-long generosity towards others. Although the high price (these days, foolishly, a major marker of an artist’s stature) was a surprise, it was a signal. For all its superficial meaning, it put him in the limelight, and confirmed his cultural status. The SMAC gallery, of course, had drawn particular public attention to Laubscher’s art in 2007 when it showed a remarkable painting that Laubscher had made in 1969. Still-life with red pear, was included in a top group show. His hard-edge landscape, Die Dam, from the same year, was equally impressive on that exhibition.
Since then he and Claude have been a constant and dynamic presence in the Mother City, raising a family, carving out careers and, importantly, contributing munificently to the local cultural environment. For decades now, as writer Abraham de Vries colourfully records in the book, the couple has lived in their well-known house in Cheviot Place. Images courtesy of the SMAC Art Gallery. Go to www.smacgallery.co.za for more details. Photo: Steve Kretzmann
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Frederik Bester Howard Laubscher was born in Tulbagh in 1927, and the boy showed an early aptitude by making drawings of the town’s
May the miracle of Christmas touch your heart with peace and joy! Mag die vreugde en vrede van die Kersgety met u wees!
What speaks to me is the silence of the spaces of the world, and not merely silence itself, but what lies behind it. That is why I paint snow and vast stretches of water, and skies, and deserts…the “feeling” of it suggests another dimension, which is nameless. It is this feeling that I have tried to portray.
Maud Sumner Born / Died Johannesburg 1902 - 1985 Supplement to The South African Art Times
For most of her life Sumner travelled between three homes. Ollerset- the colonial home of her birth and childhood, in Johannesburg, Eathorpe- an ancestral home in Warwhickshire, England, and the various studio apartments she kept in Paris and London. She said she “felt attached to each, yet to a degree alien in all.” The fact that she was often abroad put her out-on a limb from other South African artists of her time, and although she did exhibit with “The New Group”- (having been invited by Walter Battiss,) she is often left out of retrospective collections of their work. Sumner was a loner and a traveller and her life and work are a reflection of these two major influences: her external world (in which she was an international citizen- long before the internet and jet planes) and her internal world, which found her painting in solitary spiritual contemplation. Sumner’s life as artist really began in Paris, when in 1929, she shared a house in the Rue Boulard (which had two interlinked apartments) - with Spanish cubist painter Maria Blanchard. Blanchard was an established painter and very well connected. Sumner immersed herself in painting with the guidance of Blanchard. She was privileged to spend time with many of the artists who were pivotal to the development of pre-Second World War art. According to Sumner’s Recollections of Paris (Published by Apollo- October 1975) - the likes of “Henry Mattisse, Eduard Vuillard, Severini and Claude came to the Rue Boulard.” During this time she took lessons at various art schools and with individual masters, including
a short apprenticeship with the Sculptor Naom Arendson. She was eager to absorb as many compatible influences as possible. “I wanted to get various ideas on art, not pick up the style of any one master, but to find my own.” She wrote. She had been drawn to Paris for years, but only once she had completed her masters in English Literature at Oxford and spent a year at the Westminster school of Art in London, did she feel independent enough to take the step. Her father had frowned upon of her dream of becoming an Artist, insisting she get an academic training first. So once that was done, she found a job teaching at a boy’s school in Paris until she was supporting herself with her art. She wrote that, she found of Parisian art –“a lively spirit of adventure- a richness in colour and perfection in taste not found in the London school of painting.” She was passionate about her art. It allowed access to part of herself, which she described both in her poetry and her paintings: the spirit- like muse, whom she cherished, and only met when there was sufficient peace and quiet and her mind was clear of the fuss and clutter of daily practical things. She overcame all obstacles in her need to paint, risking life and limb to paint in war, rain, snow and desert winds. (When caught painting watercolours in the rain, she is reported to have incorporated the raindrops into her painting as washes.) In later life when she was crippled by a rare illness, (Guillaume Barre Syndrome) the hospital chaplain encouraged her to paint again. Making this breakthrough helped her make a remarkable recovery. She continued to work and be present at retrospective exhibitions until her death in 1985.
Analysis of the Artist’s work/ Key influences A French critic Paul Giniewski dubbed Maud Sumner “The Great Painter of Silence” This theme echoed throughout her career as a painter. Just as in her life, she travelled regularly between the intimate social settings of Europe and spacious landscapes of South Africa, Maud Sumner’s work explored polarities in subject matter. In her intimiste stage in the 30’s and 40’s, as influenced by the French Intimiste masters Vuillard and Bonnard as well as her teachers Denis and Desvaillier’s, her works in oils focused inward, mostly on cosy domestic interiors with bright patterned fabrics and flowers, usually incorporating a figure or reflections of herself in the mirror as some kind of enigmatic presence. In the 60’s and 70’s she went to the other extreme, when she let go of all boundaries and stretched outwards, painting from an aerial perspective- as if with a birds eye view- looking down at borderless wide open sea, sky and desert. But between these two points of her journey, there was an experimental phase in which she analyzed and played with rays of light and planes of colour in a fragmentation of form to the point of abstraction. When Sumner returned to Paris after a 5 -year sojourn in South Africa
during the war, she was delighted by the new movement towards abstract expressionism. “It was exactly like looking through a window into a bright new sparkling country.” She recalled. She had taken lessons with Roger Bissiere (a father of abstract expressionism) but had not been ready to incorporate his methods into her work until this stage. She used Bissier’s teachings in combination with the Rayonist technique: exaggerating the reflecting rays of light playing off the natural lines of objects, thus creating facets of space to which she gave colour and texture. She played with these principles of light and colour in studies of all her subject matters from still lives and portraits to landscapes, discovering the shapes and patterns created in nature, taking them to the edge of abstraction but never completely abandoning reality. Paul Bercot – a friend and abstract painter also painting in Paris at the time, who was practicing a similar technique, was important influence in her use of colour. The method allowed her to suggest a fourth dimension through her work. She developed this conceptual technique for a period of over 10 years until the 60’s when the facets faded out from the elemental suns and moons she was painting in the late 50’s into her desert-scapes of the 60’s and beyond into hyper-realism in the 70’s.
Artist’s Signature Style In her earlier years in Paris, Sumner painted a number of portraits, nudes, still lives and interiors in oil, however in terms of subject matter it seemed that the idea of being all indoors was stifling as she always included a window a door or a vase of flowers representing nature to escape out of. In spite of all her work on “Intimiste” interior studies, it was with water-colour snow-scapes, painted in England that she created a stir at her first solo exhibition in Paris. Like English and French, water -colours were like her mother tongue, and oils were the language her study. She took oils more seriously, relishing their versatility and richness of colour and texture. However, watercolors were a more comfortable form of expression and a meditation for her (and more portable.) As she adapted her technique to accommodate her mood and developing maturity, Sumner’s painting style went through a series of major shifts. However, the fundamental character of her watercolours remained almost constant. She was a sensitive artist, striving to capture the innate character of whatever she was painting, whether it was a landscape, a person, or a vase of flowers. The only notable change in her watercolours, is that in the 60’s and 70’s, when she was trying to achieve a sense of limitless space she abandoned the use of ink lines to accentuate form. In her later years, Sumner found a happy medium between the abstract and the figurative- having simplified the compositions, she sensitively described mood and the essence of the place, abandoning the details. She now used thin layers of paint applications resulting in a sense of depth and dimension, beyond the veil.
Life in Paris
Portrait of Lippy Lipshitz - oil on canvas – After it was exhibited on the 1942 South African Academy, a reviewer for the Rand Dailey Mail called this painting of the South African sculptor, “Provacative”. Saying that she “captured the essential character of her subject and displays once more her happy knack of avoiding the obvious in portraiture…a more deliberate technique might have lost her the subtlety of the Puck-like smile.
Muse, 72 Rue Notre Dame des Champs oil on canvas, Pretoria Art Museum.. In this work is typical of her Intimiste phase, Sumner combines exterior an interior, creating a tension of polarities-which add to the atmosphere and seem to describe her state of mind. She includes a blurred reflection of herself as the artist in the mirror, but the fragile seated figure of “the muse” is more dominant. Sumner often used this doll- whom she named Louise- to personify the “whimsical muse” she describes in her poetry. Sumner had a dramatic relationship with her “muse”claiming that she worked “inspirationally” rather than “intellectually,”
Annihilating All That’s Made To a Green Thought in A Green Shade, Oil on Canvas. . “This is not deformation, but formation or creation, transformed: - like a pot–as-its- individual–self to an object of art.” Said Sumner of this painting, in a lecture on Modern Art in June 1950. In this landmark painting, which represents a decisive shift away from her previous representational style, Sumner annihilates space and depth of form – using white outlines to stylize and give the still life a decorative design element-reminiscent of Mattiss and Georges Braque- who had recently made an impression on her. (She met him at an opening and he invited her to his studio.) The painting was described as “sensational advance of her past achievement” by The Cape Argus 1950. (It was reserved for the Venice Biennale of 1950.)
Self-Portrait- 1933 (oil on panel ) the inscription on this painting dedicates this picture to her father. Her confident, loose painterly technique in oils, shows that by the age of 31, she had already begun to master her skill as an artist and possibly wanted her father to accept her in this identity.
(Top) The Painter, (Below) Self Portrait (Left) Drawing on rooftop, Johannesburg
Portrait of the Artist’s MotherSumner often found creative ways to sign her work. In this portrait, she has signed her name on the book her mother is holding.
Red Venice- Oil on Canvas (Johannesburg Art Gallery) Sumner’s Rayonist-inspired technique of extending imaginary rays of light from the lines created by forms to divide the painting in facets, and then finding criss-crossing planes of colour in nature, is well illustrated by this painting of ships on water.
Inspiration from the Desert
Flight into Egypt – (oil on canvas) First shown in 1951, after the death of both her parents, this bold painting is a statement of individuation. She breaks away from previous representational work using the Rayonist technique and bright colours in combination with this religious theme, it takes on the effect of a stainglass window. The elongated donkey and rope are part of the deliberate horizantle emphasis, strongly crossed by the verticle figure of Mary and the baby.
Mary and Martha- oil on canvas. Sumner’s interpretation of the conflict between two types of humanity (and has been interpreted as a portrayal of two very distinct aspects of her own personality)- the one who seeks the divine by contemplation and the other who seeks it in action. However, most mysterious is the reflection of a man’s face in the mirror. Is he an admirer, a lost brother, or could he be the sub-conscious masculine aspect of the Artist herself?
Flight of the Flamingo’s- oil on canvas. Sumner used photographs as references for her desert paintings. This painting was shown on the exhibition in London in November 1969 entitled “Silence and Space.” She may have delighted in the way that the collective birds in flight form the shape of a standing Flamingo, incidentally as they fly.
Supper at Emmaus- oil on canvas . Created with the influence of her mentors at Ateliers d’Art Sacre, Sumner permeates an every day scene, with religious undertones. (right) Pieta, oil on canvas
Sumner’s later Memory Paintings Louise Writing a Love Letter – oil on canvas – The Annunciation oil on canvas, Union Buildings Pretoria. It is a poignant reflection of an earlier work “Louise writing a Love Letter.” She has used the same setting – her trusty mannequin muse Louise is seated in deep contemplation, writing a mysterious love-letter, but in the memory painting Sumner’s twinkle of humour delights in zooming out to a broader view of the room, to reveal an angel standing near the table. Did Sumnerwho never married and remained a lone traveller all her life, in painting this picture want to show both her and the world that she was not alone, and never had been? Or was it a vision, of her guardian angel making an appearance at the sunset of her life. The Painter oil on canvas Johannesburg Art Gallery Painted around the same time as “Muse, 72 Rue Notre Dame…” except that it is reversed, with the artist in the forground and the manniquin in the background
Sun and Moon, Sahara – oil on canvas, Pretoria Art Museum. An example of her cosmic phase, in which she refined the process of finding plains of colour and texture out of the lines of natural form, allowing them to play off each other in transparent layers, creating an illusion of depth.
(left and above) Sumner took numerous trips into the Desert (above ) Avion dans le Desert, oil on Canvas (1953/4) Painted after her first flight over the desert to Isreal. The vantage point gave scope to her the Abstracted style and concept she was working with in playing with Rayonist segmentation of shapes. It marks the beginning of a new era - a phase of cosmic paintings and desert landscapes representing silence and space- often from a birds-eye view.
The Listeners- Silence is the Deserts Song, One of her memory paintings, created near the end of her life. Sumner sits among a collection of her friends- (the people in the painting are recognizably close friends and family)- at what could be a recital or church service. In the background the sun is setting on a desert horizon. By combining sketches with imagination – Sumner– made her dreams real through her art.
(left) Still Life with Candle - oil on canvas, Pretoria Art MuseumSumner was eccentric in her signing and dating of works. She hardly ever dated them and sometimes did not sign them. This one is not signed, only dated -43- significantly the year that both her brother John and her great friend and mentor Maurice Denis were killed. (above) Sumner in her studio, and at her retrospective show, Pretoria
Sumner’s Early Career Sumner’s fascination and love for French culture and her early grounding in the language was probably inspired by the French Governess who home schooled the Sumner children in their Johannesburg home. She was a bright, feisty individual with a mischievous sense of humour. When a young Maud turned a whole bowl of treacle over onto her little brothers head, her strict Edwardian parents decided that it was time for boarding school! She was sent across town to Roedene girls school in Johannesburg where she was privileged to receive her first formal art classes from an excellent art teacher- who had trained at the Royal Academy in London. She had begun painting at an early age - but at boarding school, Sumner’s keen business acumen showed its colours. She began trading paintings and sculptures, with school- mates in exchange for favours such as having her socks darned!
Artist’s Commission: Stations of the Cross : St Mary’s, Cape Town
Artistic Breakthrough Sumner was set the road to being a professional artist, by her early years in Paris at the Ateliers De Art Sacre. She chose this school not so much because of its religious leanings, but because she loved the new style of painting taught by the masters George Desvallieres and his co-founder Maurice Denis, where every day scenes are permeated with religious under tones- the enigmatic “Supper with Emmaus” is an example of this. Sumner wrote in her memoirs: “Desvalliers and Denis complemented each other as masters, the one being romantic and the other classic. Desvalliers was full of enthusiasm, interested in the arabsque and hidden emotion, Denis was more precise, a thinker, more able to explain to his pupils what he meant… Nothing was too much trouble for these two men. If their pupils were working seriously they were taken seriously.” Through these teachers, Sumner immersed herself in studying the works of Serusier, Roualt, Odilon Redon, Cezanne, Renoir, Vuillard and others of the Ecole de Paris and reflected their influences in her paintings. Maurice Dennis helped arrange her first solo exhibition in 1932 at Galarie Druet. She showed 14 Water colours and 4 oils. After her friend- Maria Blanchard, died, she returned to South Africa for a year. She held successful solo exhibitions at Ashbeys in Cape Town and Lezard’s in Johannesburg, receiving enthusiast reviews. She sailed back to Paris In 1934. Later that year, she sold 2 watercolours to the Hague Municipal Art Gallery. In 1935 She held her first solo exhibition in London- showing 40 works. And In 1939, she became the first and only SA painter to have had work bought for the State collection at the Jeu de Paume Gallery where it hangs in the Museum of impressionist and Post impressionist art.
End As her life progressed, the dimension of spirit, increasingly became her focus. Her art became a form of worship. “My paintings speak, while remaining silent.” She explained. “The noisier the world gets, the quieter my pictures become. Quiet pictures are the perfect escape,” Sumner told a reporter. “Every artist is a witness of his time,” wrote Paul Giniewski- after her desert paintings showed at the Jacques Massol Gallery in Paris in 1971, “The best way to be part of your time is to give it what it lacks, and not what it already has in abundance. Maud Sumner’s vision to this universe of noise, confusion and clutter which leads to our destruction, is the vision of virgin space, of nature without man.” After recovering from Guillaume Barre syndrome – which left her wheelchair bound and almost voiceless due to a tracheotomy, she managed her final “Memory paintings.” They were based on sketches she had made in previous years of scenes in years gone by combined fantasy scenario’s to create statements the ideal, sometimes with a twinkle in her eye – her ever present sense of humour. (See Silence is the Deserts Song and The Annunciation.) She used soft colours and lines- probably because of her frailty, which gives them a dream- like quality.
The early 50’s had been an emotionally and spiritually catalytic time for her. Her brother had died in the war and her both parents died within a few months of each other in 1949 and 1950. Ollerset, her childhood Johannesburg home was donated to the Silesians who converted it into a convent, day care centre and shelter for homeless. She drew on religion for comfort in this time of confusion and worked a lot with religious subject matter. ( See “Flight into Egypt”.) She became much bolder in her use of Rayonist principles, using natural lines to divide the picture in coloured facets, and moving further towards abstraction, although she was not comfortable with letting go of reality. It is likely that she drew confidence and inspiration from her colleague, Alfred Mannessier- an abstract expressionist and fellow pupil of Bissiere, It is not known what kind of personal relationship existed between them, but according to Frieda Harmsen- author of “Maud Sumner- Painter and Poet”: “They were soul mates in that both were drawn to religious matter, saw potential of stained glass as a prototype for their painting and designed windows for churches. Both found spiritual solace in silence. In 1953, on a pilgrimage to Israel, Sumner flew over the desert in an aeroplane for the first time. The vantage point and view of the desert dunes awakened a free spirit within her- allowing greater scope for abstraction and lead to her new phase of painting desert landscapes and large tracts of sea and sky from a birds-eye view.
1953 in the world
January 31 – February 1 – The North Sea flood of 1953 kills 1,835 people in the southwestern Netherlands (especially Zeeland), 307 in the United Kingdom and several hundred at sea, including 133 on the ferry Princess Victoria in the Irish Sea. March 17 – The first nuclear test of Operation Upshot-Knothole is conducted in Nevada, with 1,620 spectators at 3.4 km (2.1 miles). March 18 – An earthquake hits western Turkey, killing 250. March 26 – Jonas Salk announces his polio vaccine. April 25 – Francis Crick and James D. Watson publish their description of the double helix structure of DNA 9 May The South African Liberal Party is formed in Cape Town by Alan Paton June 2 – Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey. June 18 – Egypt declares itself a republic. August 8 – Soviet prime minister Georgia Malenkov announces that the Soviet Union has a hydrogen bomb. September 26 – Rationing of cane sugar ends in the UK.
Important artist’s dates
Middle Career Her exposure to the great masters and the atmosphere of the Ecole de Paris before the war, put her in a strong position to be among the first South African artists to bring change South Africa’s art legacy. Sumner’s work was easily accessible, even to a more conservative public, who may have been averse to what they might have perceived as “vulgar” modernist styles at that time. During the war years, Sumner held 16 exhibitions in all the main centres of South Africa, and was seen by South African critics as a representative of the French intimiste style. (Although she was not actually the only South African artist painting in this style at the time.) By the 60’s Sumner had become a very popular and well-recognised artist, her painting selling out quickly at well-attended exhibitions in London, Paris, Cape Town and Pretoria, and receiving rave reviews from French, English and South African art critics. In 1971, she was presented with the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns medal for painting. By this time Sumner had made the transition to painting wide-open landscapes, and deserts and skies, in veils of transparent colour, which proved very popular with the South African public. Sumner’s religious public works are a part of her legacy often forgotten by the art world. They grace churches and institutions all around the world, from Nigeria and Whales to England and South Africa. One of her major religious works being 14 oil paintings entitled “Stations of the Cross” for St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cape Town in 1961. Stylistically she was still working with elements of Rayonism but had muted the tones and softened the lines. She makes expressive use of the abstract Rayonist radiating lines, to show emotional energy of each moment of the Stations of the Cross. For example they radiate sharply out from the agonizing nail as in Christ’s Hand. They crumple tiredly in on him as he is dying and circling round as he is laid in his mother’s arms. Her intention was to make the story of the crucifixion real by presenting it in a Cinematic style- so that the viewer would feel jostled along with the crowd.
1953 - A year in the life of the artist
Setting of paintings in St . Mary’s Jesus falls for the second time, Jesus falls for the third time, Jesus is stripped of his clothes, Jesus meets his mother, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross, Veronica comforts Jesus
Stations of the Cross Maud Sumner was vehemently apposed to “pretty” popular church art: “ It does nothing to confront people with the harsh facts of the Christian faith, making no intellectual or spiritual demands on the viewers.” She said in a lecture to the Kolbe Association in 1952. She felt a need to educate and impassion other Catholics about modern art, as she felt that they had become lazy and stagnant in their choice of only the old masters. She called this “mental laziness.” Perhaps as a result of being so vocal about her opinions, she found herself with the task of painting “Stations of the Cross.” When she was commissioned, she was warned by John Paris Director of the South African National Gallery- who had been advising the Archbishop, that it would have to be a “labour of love because the most they could pay was five hundred pounds for the whole job – which consisted of 14 panels -each 90 by 90 centimetres. She told friends that she was “terrified by the task,” but put her heart and soul into the massive commitment. She consulted theological texts, sought out other renderings of the “Stations,” and according to Frieda Harmsen, “visited a Christian visionary to hear how she had visualised Christ’s Passion.” Sumner believed that “all art is Christian (or spiritual), whether the subject is religious or secular because art is creative and therefore divine. “ Although she did not see herself as a religious painter, she had earned a reputation due to the public showing of two major works, painted while in deep mourning after the death of close family members; “The Pieta” after the untimely death of her brother, (killed in action in Egypt in 1943) and “Flight into Egypt” after the passing of both her parents in 1949 and 1950.) In the 50’s she became more comfortable with painting religious works and designed several stain glass windows for churches in Nigeria and Wales, as well as two Madonna paintings for churches in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Sumner wrote that her intention in creating the 14 oil paintings describing Christ’s journey to the cross was to “turn the focus on Chris –in an almost cinematic idiom -for example there are two “close-ups,” She wrote in her notes to elecudiate The Stations of the Cross, “I wanted to show it as His saga-with the whole condemnation, journey and death of the Hero, giving the spectator the impression that they are actually following Him on the road to Cavalary. To do this I have varied the size of the Christ figure. When he is near us He looks larger, and gets smaller as we are jostled back in the crowd.” The works correspond stylistically to the elemental works of dunes, suns, moons, sky and water that she had been making in the late 60’s and early 70’s, in which she was still employing abstract techniques, she had begun in Paris in the eary 50’s. However, her of Rayonist inspired style had developed to a stage colour was more subtle and the radiating facets and lines had softened and become intuitive tools of expression, movement and mood. For example, the lines radiate sharply outward from the agonizing nail as in Christ’s Hand, crumple tiredly in on him as he is dying and circle round to echo the intimate moment as he looks sadly at his mother before his crucifixion.
1902 16th September born in Johannesburg. 1922-5 Sumner completed a Masters in Literature at Oxford. 1925 Studied at the Westminster School of Art in London. 1926 Apprenticed with Sculptor Naom Arendson in Paris. Then enrolled at the Ateliers d’Art Sacre. 1930- 12 November, She exhibited 2 pictures at the Salon d’Automne. 1931- 3 of her works showed at the Selles de Bains- and were singled out by the reviewer of the French Times newspaper. 1932 on the 16 April: First solo exhibition at Galarie Druet. Maria Blanchard, Spanish cubist painter and Sumner’s best friend died. November She held her first solo art show in South Africa at Ashby’s Gallery in Cape Town. 1933 April: Exhibited at lezard’s in Johannesburg. 1934 Sold paintings to The Hague Municipal Art Gallery. Attended classes at the Acadamie de la Grande Choumeire. 1935 Solo exhibition held in Berkely Square, London. 1936 Visited Spain – inspired by El Greco. Painted pictures in Spain and exhibited them in Paris in group exhibition. Returned to Johannesburg for a year- exhibited at Lezards in Johannesburg. 1937- Exhibited in South Africa in Johannesburg and Ashby’s Cape Town. Exhibition at Ashbey’s in Cape Town.- Paintings were bought at this show for the SA National Gallery. In April participated in a group show with Irma Stern and two other artists. Also exhibited in Paris at Salon d’Automn. 1938- Studied under Rogier Bissier at the Academie Ransom.1938. 1939 – Became the first and only SA painter to have had work bought for the State collection at the Jeu de Paume Gallery for the museum of impressionist and post impressionist art. 1941- Joined the ambulance brigade in England, then SA for 5 years during the war. Held 16 exhibitions in SA including some with the New Group. 1946- Returned to Paris to a Renaissance of Colour and began new era of Rayonist expressionism which she refined throughout the 50’s. 1949- Returned to SA and exhibited in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Her father died at the end of this year. 1950- Her Mother died in May. 1953: - Flight to Israel over the desert 1953 -78- Exhibited regularly in SA, London and Paris. 1978 - Admitted to American hospital outside Paris with Guillian Barre Syndrome had to have a tracheotomy. 1979 Returned to Johannesburg Workers hospital to recouperate. 1981 Exhibition at the Hoffer Gallery in Pretoria sold most of the paintings before opening. 1983 April: Her sister Dorothy died. She attended the opening of a retrospective exhibition of her paintings at the Hoffer Gallery. Pretoria. 14th of January 1985, she died at home.
Bibliography Maud Sumner- Painter and Poet – Frieda Harmsen. Published by J.L. van Schaik Unisa’s Maud Sumner’s in sequence- Frieda Harmsen – published in de arte 63 Recollections of Paris- by Maud Sumner – Apollo New Series, Vol 102 No164 Oct 1975 Maud Sumner and her Muse – Frieda Harmsen – a paper read to the SA Association of Art Historians Conference, Women and the Visual Arts, Wits, 1990 Maud Sumner- Charles Ellington, -Purnell & Sons, 1965 Art and Artists of South Africa, - Esme Berman- AA Balkema -1970 Mannessier Paris, - Jean Carol, Le Musee de Poche 1966 The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Centuary Art- Harold OsborneOxford University Press 1981
Researched and written by Helena Doe
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SOLD R1 225 400
A FORMIDABLE TEAM Stephan Welz has been joined in Cape Town by the key staff from his former company, Ann Palmer, Vanessa Phillips and Bina Genovese, all of whom have extensive experience and expertise in the auction world. Mica Curitz, silver specialist, has followed suit and recently Emma Bedford highly regarded in the art world both locally and internationally has also joined us. In Johannesburg Stephan is partnered by Mary-Jane Darroll who has considerable gallery and auction experience. Given this team I have no doubt that Strauss & Co. will in the future continue to play an important role in the South African art market serving the best interests of both sellers and buyers.
SOLD R1 559 600
I should like to take this opportunity to wish all our clients compliments of the season.
ENQUIRIES: +27 (0)11 728 8246 OR +27 (0)21 683 6560 www.straussart.co.za Prices quoted are inclusive of buyer’s premium
World Record for a still life SOLD R7 241 000
Irma Stern World Record
SOLD R1 225 400
SOLD R5 570 000
SOLD R1 002 600 SOLD R1 448 200
OVERSHADOWED ARTISTS STEAL THE SHOW Strauss & Co. has done justice to several artists that have tended to be previously overshadowed achieving record prices for their work. These include amongst others Frans Oerder, Wolf Kibel, Dorothy Kay, May Hillhouse and Edoardo Villa. Although the works offered were exceptional examples of the artists’ work, the fact that they were professionally presented to the market greatly enhanced their final selling price.
SOLD R1 058 300
SOLD R5 792 800
AUCTIONS In our pursuit of rarity and quality, Strauss & Co. was entrusted with the sale of several important works from private hands that were fresh to the market, either acquired directly from artists or their estates or that had been out of the public domain for years. These included Irma Stern’s Magnolias in an Earthenware Pot (sold R7 241 000, a world record for a still life by the artist), Carla (sold R5 570 000), Wolf Kibel’s arresting Self Portrait (sold R1 225 400, a world record for the artist) and Jean Welz’s Still Life Cézannesque (sold R1 225 400, a world record for the artist). We handled the most important piece of Cape furniture ever to appear at auction, an 18th century Cape silver-mounted coromandel buffet, establishing a new record and a pair of 18th century wine coolers and liners, by master silversmith Paul Storr which sold for three times its pre-sale estimate. The Leslie Milner Collection comprising some 42 South African paintings achieved excellent results due in part to our knowledge of the market and our exceptional marketing skills.
World Record for a landscape
OFFICES Our elegant offices in prime locations represent our vision of top quality and excellence. Inspired by the marked move of International auction houses away from the traditional Victorian image, Mary-Jane Darroll has achieved a gallery-style minimalism that places the artworks centre stage with optimal hanging and lighting considerations.
SOLD R891 200
HISTORY After Stephan Welz’s sudden exit from the market in 2007 and subsequent 18-month trade restraint, there were no doubts in our minds that the South African art market had lost its leader and mentor. Being seasoned collectors and prompted by our passion for South African art, Dr Strauss and I approached Stephan with a view to form a new auction house. We set off on our course to create a sleek, solid and successful operation with Stephan and his formidable team as the key players in an attempt to give back to the market the credibility and expertise it had lost. Francis Antonie, our then Managing Director, and MaryJane Darroll were instrumental in laying the foundations. Strauss & Co. opened its head office in Houghton, Johannesburg in September last year to be followed by the launch of the Cape Town operation in February 2009 and the opening of our Newlands premises in May.
SOLD R1 225 400
ACHIEVEMENTS Strauss & Co. hosted three sales in its first year of operation, two in Johannesburg and one in Cape Town, generating a turnover of over R100 million of mostly high end paintings establishing Strauss & Co. as market leader. Our market share is currently nearly double that of our nearest competitor. We set numerous new auction records for among others, Anton van Wouw, Irma Stern, Jean Welz, Wolf Kibel, Frans Oerder and Freida Lock, Cape furniture and Paul Storr silver. Particularly notable amongst these were: • the highest price for a painting (Irma Stern’s Magnolias in an Earthenware Pot, sold R7 241 000, a world record for a still life by the artist) • the highest price for a sculpture (Anton van Wouw, Die Noitjie van die Onderveld, sold R946 900, a world record for the artist) • the highest price for a piece of Cape furniture (an 18th Century silver-mounted Coromandel Buffet, sold R 1 058 300 establishing a new record) • the highest price for an item of silver (a pair of George III silver wine coolers and liners by Paul Storr, London 1819, sold R1 559 600)
VISION Our vision of encouraging connoisseurship and passion at the top end of the local art market, with a strong emphasis on quality, service and excellence is proving to be a winning formula. This is due to our formidable team of world class art auction specialists headed by the doyen of South African art auctioneers and experts, Stephan Welz.
Record for Cape Furniture
SOLD R1 782 400
Dr Strauss and I are indeed overwhelmed at the outstanding achievements Strauss & Co. has accomplished in its first year of operation despite being the new kid on the block, the recession and a highly competitive local and international market. In one year, Strauss & Co. has become not only a name that speaks of extraordinary art, as well as unparalleled expertise and service, but is also by turnover the largest Fine Art Auction House in South Africa. Much of the success of our sales can be attributed to the long standing relationship and trust the directors and staff of Strauss & Co. have developed with collectors and dealers both in South Africa and abroad. We are grateful to our clients for their support during 2009, our inaugural year.