Global demand for South African art

Khanyi Magubane

South African art has been breaking price records at auctions and exhibitions. The prestigious Bonhams auctioneers in London hosted their second South African art sale in January. Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques, and the event was billed as the biggest sale of South African art in the world.

Most of the 200 buyers who sent prices flying sky-high were from the United States and Europe. Over 295 pieces by 100 artists were sold and fetched over £ 4.4 million (R60 million). The sale featured some of the country’s best artists, including Irma Stern, whose works led the lot and attracted the highest bids.

Sterns’ painting Still Life with Chrysanthemums and a Pumpkin fetched the top price at £ 378, 400 (R5.7 million), setting a new world record for a still life by this artist. It had been estimated to sell at between £ 250 000 (R3.8 million) and £350 000 (R5 Million).

The work of another well-known female artist, Maggie Laubser, achieved a stunning result with The Harvesters, which went for £126, 000 (R 2 million); the estimate had been between £25 000 (R400 00) and £35 000 (R530 000). This, too, is a world record price for a Laubser landscape.

Giles Peppiatt, director of South African art at Bonhams, says, “The demand for high quality South African painting has moved beyond the domestic South African market, and is now truly international.”

In May last year, Bonhams became the first international auction house in the world to hold a sale dedicated to South African art outside of South Africa. Enthusiastic bidders packed the saleroom at Bonhams in London, as three world record prices were smashed by some of South Africa’s major artists. The total price achieved for the sale realised was £1 461 (R20 million).

At the May auction, a rare piece by the legendary South African artist Gerard Sekoto was sold for £117 600 (R1.8 million), more than 10 times its estimate, and the highest price ever paid for one of his paintings.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who is said to be one of Britain’s leading art collectors, was among the many who bid at the show.

It’s believed that the boom in the growth of South African art sales overseas has triggered a rush from South Africans across the world seeking evaluations of their old pieces.

The Mandela Rhodes foundation co-hosted the event, with an original by former president Nelson Mandela. The signed lithograph The Window, from the My Robben Island series, shows the bars of Mandela’s cell, with the sea and Table Mountain in view.

Bonhams’ auctions of South African art have been so successful that they are planning to have a third sale in September this year. Local artists have been urged to come forward and have their work evaluated for the auction.

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