The most exciting collections at art auctioneers Strauss & Co’s March sale in Cape Town are the four that have been consigned. “All four were painstakingly assembled and are distinguished by the passion and connoisseurship of their owners,” says Vanessa Phillips, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director.
The Dr JR and Mary Strong collection includes more than 200 pieces of Oriental porcelain and works of art taking in snuff bottles, netsuke (small, carved, Japanese ornaments), jade, and ceramics. Paintings from the Shill collection and the late Sol Munitz collection will see some exceptional work going under the hammer. “These paintings by Irma Stern and Alexis Preller represent some of the most important and historically significant works to appear in a South African salesroom in recent years,” says Bina Genovese, Strauss & Co’s joint managing director. “Works of this calibre rarely come to market.” Lastly, Cape furniture pieces from the collection of Dr Johan Bolt round off the exceptional offering at the auction.
1. A TIFFANY & CO SILVER WATER PITCHER, 1907–1947, .925 STERLING
“Who would not want to have a glass of water from this pitcher?” asks Phillips. This piece is from a collection of American silver. “It’s incredibly stylish,” she adds. “Its simplicity and clean lines make it so appealing. It would look very glamorous on any dining-room table. That’s what these objects were made for.”
2. A PRELLER COVER STAR
Esmé Berman and Karel Nel wrote the most important monograph on the work of Alexis Preller — published 10 years ago — and this is the artwork they chose for the cover! It’s called Collected Images (Orchestration of Themes) and depicts a cabinet with 18 compartments, each illustrated with one of the artist’s major metaphors.
3. PAIR OF EMERALD AND DIAMOND EARRINGS
As authentic survivors of the ’70s, these beautiful earrings capture the spirit of the era. “They’re fabulous,” Phillips says. “They’re really representative of a decade of supreme glamour, reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor.”
4. A RARE SOUTHERN CAPE YELLOWWOOD, STINKWOOD AND FRUITWOOD JONKMANSKAS
This is one of the standout pieces from the Dr Johan Bolt collection of Cape furniture and metalware (see sidebar for our interview with Dr Bolt). He recalls spotting this particular piece in the corner of a photograph of a pair of chairs a dealer showed him. Just a fragment was visible. “We could see a leg with the Riversdale inlay,” he says, referring to the Western Cape region famous for its neoclassical furniture. He flew the dealer to the seller’s home in East London, and his instincts were confirmed.
5. A GEORGE IV SILVER, VASE-SHAPED WINE COOLER, BENJAMIN SMITH, LONDON, 1825
This piece, from the Dr JR and Mary Strong collection of silver, is representative of a much larger collection, with pieces dating back as far as the reign of King Charles II. “The earliest piece of silver in the collection dates back to 1664,” Phillips says. “Most of it is from the 17th and 18th centuries.” She says that Strong particularly admired the work of Benjamin Smith III, a famous Georgian silversmith from London. “We should all be serving our wine in wine coolers as elegant as this,” Phillips says.
6. A CHINESE JADE CARVING OF A ‘MAGNOLIA’ VASE, QING DYNASTY, LATE 18TH/EARLY 19TH CENTURY
Also from the Strong collection, this vase is representative of 60 pieces of jade, ranging from the Ming dynasty to the early republic period. “I knew Dr Strong as a fantastic collector,” Phillips says. “Whatever he did, he was resolute.” She notes that he recorded and catalogued every object in his collection, with details of where he purchased it. “He was buying at Liberty in the ’60s,” she says. “He would only have the best.” The collection includes more than 120 snuff bottles and fantastic jades.
7. A HAT-TRICK OF IRMA STERNS
Among the big-money showstoppers headlining the auction are three portraits of single sitters by Irma Stern, dating from her acclaimed Zanzibar period. The artist famously visited Zanzibar in 1939 and 1945, and her large portraits from this period are highly sought-after. Two are from the well-known Shill collection, and the third from the Sol Munitz collection.
8. A MASSIVE, JAPANESE, LACQUERED, IVORY AND SHIBAYAMAINLAID FOOTED CHARGER, EDO PERIOD, 1615–1868
“I’ve never ever seen such a large example,” Phillips says. This piece is 90cm in diameter. “It’s massive!” She points out the skill of the carving in ivory and mother-of-pearl depicting a hawk with a tiny bird in its grasp, and the beautiful peonies and magnolias. She calls it a “tiny visual seduction”. “The Japanese were at their zenith during this period,” she says. “It is just such a sensuous object.”
• The sale will take place on Monday 18 March at the Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town. Strauss & Co will host a preview of the sale from 15 to 17 March, between 10am and 5pm, which will include an extensive programme of public talks and social events in the lead-up to the sale, all open to the public.
- From the March edition of Wanted 2019.