If there is one artwork everyone will be watching in the next 24 hours it must be a painting titled Homage to Hieronymus Bosch by Alexis Preller that is valued to fetch as much as R5-million, when it goes under the hammer at the Strauss & Co Auction this evening.  It is in good company at the Vineyard Hotel in Newlands, where it has been on display along with a Pierneef valued at R3-million, Maggie Laubser’s The old Shepard, which could fetch as much as R3,4 million, and an Irma Stern still life, Black Lilies, also valued at R3-million. What is an auction without pricey artworks well beyond the means of the average person?

Half the appeal of looking at these artworks is trying to figure out why they are so valuable and perhaps deciding for yourself if you think the sums they command are justified. The catalogue produced for this auction help pin down some of intangible qualities that might escape the naked eye. Stern’s Black Lilies (1941) is valuable because the flower itself is rare and the art historian Esme Berman believes Stern is among the best at painting flowers. You probably don’t need to do any reading to know that Pierneef’s Hardekoolboom in a Bushveld landscape (1944) is collectable as it depicts indigenous trees – subject matter he excels at and is known for.  There is also the fact that the painting Farm Jonkershoek with Twin Peaks Beyond, Stellenbosch fetched a record R20-million plus at June auction.

A “dreamlike strangeness” is what the artist and historian Karel Nel identifies as a significant feature of Preller’s Homage to Hieronymus Bosch (1948).  It is an intriguing painting featuring a flying fish and scenes, characters spilling out and living beyond the pages of a book. As the title suggests the work is inspired by the Dutch painter described as “the trendiest apocalyptic medieval painter.”

In the vein of Bosch, Preller’s painting offers lots of symbolic vignettes for viewers to decipher while they decide whether its worth the R5-million tag. However, there are 660 lots to see at the Vinyard Hotel. All sorts of different kinds of valuable and collectable things are on display from a vintage Cartier ladies watch, diamond rings, to a gold bangle with pear shaped rubies, to vintage Danish beechwood Swan Chairs and 17th Century coffee pots. It is a veritable smorgasbord of all that is prized and valued by our society.

Now that the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art has opened its doors, this should start to turn Capetonians attention towards the contemporary art lots at Strauss & Co auctions. Only two artists included in the opening exhibition at that museum have works on sale; William Kentridge and Penny Siopis. However, both tend to fair well at auctions. There are 11 Kentridge lots priced from R20 000 to R3,4-million. Anyone can own a Kentridge, however, there are only a few that are truly valuable. A drawing for Sobriety, Obesity and Growing Old, is perhaps one of those as it dates back to the height of artistic career – the early nineties – and is a by-product of the eponymous film produced via his distinctive technique of drawing with charcoal and erasing and altering scenes for his stop-frame-animations. The Siopis doesn’t look like a Siopis at all; it’s a garden scene with sheep. Artworks that could be considered contemporary classics by Lyndi Sales (Fortune Wheel), Wayne Barker (Zulu Lulu), Conrad Botes (Murder and Mayhem) Wim Botha (Untitled Ecstasy Series) and Diane Victor (Bearer Four Horses Series) are highlights.

Will someone fall in love with Laubser’s The Old Shepard or Preller’s surreal Homage to Hieronymus Bosch? We will find out tonight. Sponsored text by Corrigall & Co

Strauss & Co’s October 16 Auction will take place at the Vineyard Hotel in Newlands, Cape Town. For more information visit straussart.co.za.

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