Avatar photo

By Citizen Reporter


19th century South African paintings go up for auction

The sale features 365 works across three sessions.

Strauss & Co’s March art online auction features a single artist session focusing exclusively on 19th century British artist and landscape painter Thomas Bowler.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors to acquire pieces directly from a collection curated by Dr Frank Bradlow, Bowler’s biographer and a luminary in Africana collectables.

The sale features 356 works across three sessions Art Club, Focus on Thomas Bowler and Impression/Expression.

Art Club

The first session of the sale, titled Art Club, includes a range of prints and works on paper by established SA artists well-known in the auction circuit.

Among the contemporary highlights are Mongezi Ncaphayi’s Untitled (Abstract in Pink and Blue) (estimated at R8 000 – R12 000), an early Zander Blom chromogenic print, The Black Hole Universe: Chapter 2, Scene 041 (estimated at R8 000 – R12 000), and Nelson Makamo’s My Mother Told Me ‘Never Throw a Stone and Hide’ (estimated at R10 000 – R15 000).

Other works include a trio of striking landscapes by Vera Volschenk: The Sleeping Beauty – Riversdale (estimated at R3 000 – R5 000); Arbeidsgenot (Dist Riversdale) estimated at R5 000 – R7 000; and The Lagoon – Nature’s Valley (estimated at R5 000 – R7 000).

ALSO READ: Van Gogh, Kandinsky stars of the show at Dutch art fair

“Another standout piece of the Art Club session is Colony II (estimated at R50 000 – R70 000) by Penny Siopis,” says Strauss & Co valuation specialist Kayleen Wrigley.

“This woven mohair tapestry is part of Siopis’ early 1990s Colony series. Created by the Marguerite Stephens Tapestry Studios, it measures 137cm x 150cm x 1.5cm and features inscriptions with the names of the weavers, Lillian Simelane and Gladys Ntontela.”

READ MORE: Karl Lagerfeld’s Paris apartment to go on auction for over $5 million

Focus on Thomas Bowler

All 46 lots in the single-artist session hail from a recently deaccessioned corporate collection – the second-largest collection of Bowler’s work. Among the highlights is a rare oil painting depicting Table Bay, alongside remarkable watercolours showcasing life in 19th century Cape of Good Hope and other parts of South Africa.

After arriving in Cape Town in 1834, Bowler spent his career documenting the Cape Colony.

He painted its landscapes and the lives of its inhabitants. His work also captures the early development of Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) and scenes from his travels during a period of conflict between the Dutch and the British as they expanded into territories defended by the indigenous population.

NOW READ: Art auction internet economy spells doom for showrooms

“With the assistance of Dr Mathys Bokhorst from the National Gallery and Bradlow, the company secured additional works by Bowler.

Bradlow then took on the role of curator for the collection in 1967. Through his efforts, it became the second-largest holding of Bowler’s art, surpassed only by the William Fehr collection at the Iziko Museums, encompassing paintings and other objects from the 17th to 19th centuries,” says Wrigley.

A captivating landscape oil painting reminiscent of British Romantic painter JMW Turner is included in the auction. This atmospheric piece depicts Table Mountain and Table Bay and is the highest-valued lot in the session. “Oil paintings by Bowler are exceedingly rare,” says Wrigley.

ALSO READ: Get on board for surf art

“He worked primarily in watercolour, the favoured style of English landscape painters of the time. Bradlow recorded only a handful of oil paintings known to be in existence.”

Table Bay from Bloubergstrand (estimated at R80 000 – R120 000) captures a moody scene – clouds hovering against white-capped peaks, a dark teal sea, and in the distance, a bruise-coloured Table Mountain looms ominously.

Bowler’s meticulous eye for detail is evident in the inclusion of a lone seagull perched on a rock in the far left corner and groups of jackass penguins gathered on the crags.

READ MORE: Auction return policy: A guide for buyers


The third session also offers treasures from Esther Mahlangu, Lionel Smit, Cecil Skotnes and Christo Coetzee. Furthermore, there are striking sculptures by Speelman Mahlangu, landscapes by Alexander Rose-Innes, Tinus de Jongh and Pranas Domsaitis, and delicate, evocative charcoal sketches by Judith Mason.

One of the session’s highlights is eight linocuts by mystic artist and philosopher Daniel Rakgoathe, all attractively priced. South Africa’s first craft teacher Rakgoathe worked and taught at the Rorke’s Drift and Mofolo art centres.

Another eye-catching lot is a pastel drawing by French-Mauritian artist Clément Sénèque Village on a River (estimated at R12 000 – R18 000).

NOW READ: Your complete auction guide

The work depicts L’Isle-Adam on the River Oise and boasts an impressive provenance, with direct acquisition from the artist’s granddaughter.

Mosenthal Collection

Also included in the collection are seven watercolours from The Mosenthal Establishments Commission, a Jewish family of businessmen who played a significant role in establishing South Africa’s wool industry and launching various trading stores across the country’s hinterland.

In late 1856, Julius Mosenthal decided to commemorate the Mosenthal Establishments and commissioned Bowler to create seven watercolours depicting its properties and business ventures.

These watercolours showcase the early development of streets and buildings in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, as well as the bustling activity in the various Mosenthal trading posts in outposts such as Graaff-Reinet, Murraysburg and Hope Town.

One of the watercolours, Maisonnette. Cape Town. Cape of Good Hope (estimated at R45 000 to R65 000) depicts Mosenthal’s residence in the artist’s typical picturesque topographical style, while portraying a bustling street scene with various figures surrounding the elegant homestead.

MORE TO READ: Most unconventional and expensive items sold on auction

Read more on these topics

art artists sale

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits