Three myths about buying art at an auction

Buying art can be intimidating, especially if you’re a novice to the practice. Selecting the right experts and auction houses to guide you through the process can be an enriching and educational experience. 

#1 –  Only rich people buy blue chip artists

If you are shopping around for an oil painting by JH Pierneef or a Zanzibar-period portrait by Irma Stern, deep pockets and a direct line to your private banker may be a prerequisite.  But art auction houses are also turning their attention to new and younger collectors that may not have the capital to initially bid on the big hitters, but are eager to get a foot in the door. Susie Goodman,  a Managing Executive at Strauss & Co, South Africa’s leading auction house suggests that prospective art collectors get a feel for their tastes and their budget by browsing through the auction house’s online-only auctions and  catalogues.  “Artists like Pierneef, Stern and Kentridge have yielded exceptional returns on investment. We’re noticing quite a few new buyers looking to diversify their investment portfolio to include art. And even though they may not be able to afford an oil painting or original work from the blue-chip artists, they can start building their collections with prints, etchings, and limited editions,” she says.  Stern’s oil paintings may sell for millions of rands, but it is still possible to buy her works on paper for under R50 000.

JH Pierneef – Bushveld Pafuri – Sold November 2021 – R11 607 600.00

JH Pierneef – Krommerivier, Stellenbosch (Nilant 15)  Sold  July 2022 – R  45 520.00



Irma Stern – Dakar Woman – Sold April 2022 – R10 469 600.00


Irma Stern – African Woman with Children – Sold March 2022 –  R 52 763 


#2 – Art experts will scoff at my ignorance

When people think about art consultants and experts, they usually imagine someone dressed from head to toe in black, with a bob like a scythe and eyes ready to desiccate the little knowledge you may have about the art market. Unfortunately, the general public still harbours preconceived ideas about art experts and collectors – that they are snooty, nose-in-the-air people who sneer at art ingenues. “And if they do, you are better off buying from a company or organisation who that embraces new buyers and believes in sharing its knowledge,” says Bina Genovese, a Managing Executive at Strauss & Co. “While most of our art specialists are sharp dressers with impeccable taste, they are also warm, friendly individuals, passionate about sharing their knowledge. They love getting prospective collectors excited about art and walk the extra mile with new clients and budding collectors. They are happy to answer all your questions, even those you may regard as silly or ‘uninformed.’ ” says Genovese.

#3 – I can’t afford quality, original art

“You will be surprised at what you are able to afford at one of our online-only auctions,” Goodman says.  “People spend tens of thousands of rands on mass-produced generic prints or pieces at a retail store, but for R10 000 or even R5 000, they can buy an amazing artwork at one of our online auctions. And they can rest assured that our art experts have vetted the works’ provenance, value and condition.  If you’re interested in well-known artists, like William Kentridge, Irma Stern, or JH Pierneef, you may want to look at works on paper, watercolours and limited edition prints. Their past performance at art auctions has yielded an excellent return on investment. “But you don’t have to buy art for investment. The first rule when collecting art is to buy what you love,” Genovese adds.  For collectors with more traditional tastes, landscape oil paintings by Gabriel de Jongh, Piet van Heerden, Adriaan Boshoff and Johannes Oldert all offer excellent value for money. And if your appetite gravitates more towards the abstract and contemporary, buyers have been snapping up prints from big names like David Koloane, Dirk Meerkotter and Cecil Skotnes for less than R5000.

Cecil Skotnes. – Before the Citadel, no. 2 – Sold R6649.00


Dirk Meerkotter – Abstract Cityscape – Sold R 34 140

William Kentridge – 9 Films for Projection – Sold R 25 795.00

William Kentridge –  Seated woman and Companion – Sold R 23 450

Browse the Strauss & Co website for in-depth information on artists, prices fetched at auction as well as informative videos on artists, movements and sale highlights.  Art lovers and prospective buyers can also visit auction previews and exhibitions throughout the year to get more familiar with artists, mediums and most importantly what kind of art they like.

On currently is August Art Month, an annual celebration of art and culture at the historic Cape Town manor house of Welgemeend. Established in 2014, and hosted by Frank and Lizelle Kilbourn in collaboration with the Friends of Welgemeend and Strauss & Co, August Art Month always presents a themed art exhibition featuring rare and important artworks from private collections. This year’s exhibition is titled Homage: Erken/Verken and celebrates the achievements of art market pioneers Louis and Charlotte Schachat, founders in 1971 of the legendary Cape Town art Gallery, Die Kunskamer. To view the full programme:

Strauss & Co’s forthcoming  online-only auction opens on Monday 22nd August and runs until Monday 28th August and features a good cross-section of 19th Century, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art, as well as furniture, decorative arts and wine. Visit for more information.

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