Creative and collector: A legacy

A meeting between the artist Gregoire Boonzaier and art collector and gallerist Dr Matthys Strydom sparked a lifelong passion for art and collecting that still influences a new generation of collectors and art lovers. 

Matthys Strydom was a true connoisseur of South African art. As director of the well-known Strydom Gallery in George for more than 30 years, he was responsible for selecting a wide variety of prime artworks from all over South Africa, for his annual exhibitions. “We are honoured to present an impressive holding of 20th-century South African art from the Dr Matthys Johannes Strydom Family Collection,” says Bina Genovese, Executive Director at Strauss & Co, Africa’s leading art auctioneers. “Passionate and knowledgeable collectors form the foundation of a vibrant art market, and Matthys Strydom (1935-2022) possessed these virtues in abundance. A medical doctor, entrepreneur, cattle breeder and art dealer based in George, Matthys Strydom was also an enthusiastic collector who published two books telling the stories behind the works in his large collection,” Genovese says.

Meeting of kindred spirits 

It was during a meeting with modernist Gregoire Boonzaier that Strydom’s lifelong passion for art and collecting was ignited – Boonzaier was the first living artist of consequence that Strydom bought during his journey as a collector.  In 1967 Strydom and his wife, Helene, were staying in Cape Town while their son underwent a series of medical procedures. While holding vigil over their ill child, the couple reached out to Boonzaier, requesting a meeting. The meeting led to the purchase of their first important painting, a wintery Cape landscape with a bare oak tree in front of whitewashed homesteads at Suurbraak, a former mission station in the Overberg.

“Strydom was an aesthete. He appreciated art and culture, but pomposity and put-on airs and graces annoyed him,” says Jean Le Clus-Theron, Senior Art Specialist, Strauss & Co. He was rarely driven by profit, on the contrary, he was more interested in art education, meeting artists, and sharing his knowledge with all art lovers. Boonzaier shared the same beliefs as Strydom – the artist felt art should be accessible and enjoyed by all. He toured the country, giving public lectures to demystify art and make it more accessible to “ordinary folks”.  “I think Strydom appreciated Bonzaaier’s uncomplicated and straightforward approach,” she muses. “Although the artist’s aesthetic approach was simple and without pretence, he still was technically and stylistically brilliant at his craft.”

Boonzaier studied at the prestigious Heatherley School of Art in London, where he was exposed to the work of the Post-Impressionists and early modern artists who were to inspire his life’s work. On his return to South Africa, he co-founded the New Group with Walter Battiss, Lippy Lipschitz, Freida Lock and Terence McCaw in 1938. “Boonzaier’s work appealed to connoisseurs and ingenues alike. I think it’s extremely telling that the first painting of note Strydom bought, as an ingenue collector, was a Boonzaier. As his knowledge progressed and his tastes became more sophisticated, he continued to collect Boonzaier. It says a great deal about the timelessness and universal appeal of his work,” she says.

Auction highlights

A highlight of the auction includes 14 oils and several watercolours in Boonzaier’s hand and reflects the warm relationship between artist and collector. The painting Moskee met Duiwelspiek, Kaapstad (Mosque with Devil’s Peak, Cape Town) (lot 260) illustrates the artist’s skill in depicting vernacular architecture and Cape-Malay scenes with dignity and grace. “I remember again the time I came to Gregoire in his studio, while he was working on the painting Mosque with Devil’s Peak, Cape. The work captivated me and I immediately wanted to buy it. The impression of fleetingness and spontaneity it created particularly struck me”. Strydom recalled in his book Stories teen my muur.

Gregoire Boonzaier spent years painting the old areas of District Six and the Bo-Kaap.  “He expertly captures the spirit of the integrated community of District Six and recorded it, unknowingly, for perpetuity. The demolition of the area and the forced removal of its inhabitants was a major apartheid atrocity. His technique lent itself to articulating the texture and patina of the century-old buildings,” Ian Hunter, Senior Art Specialist, Strauss & Co explains. With Eikebome, Herfs, Elgin (Oak Trees, Autumn, Elgin) (lot 262), the viewer experiences the mood of an autumnal Overberg landscape with visceral accuracy. Anyone who has visited the Elgin Valley and Overberg during autumn will recognise the muted, faded hues of the region. There is a Proustian evocation of the scent of moist earth, dry leaves and crisp cool mornings tinged with petrichor.

“The artist was particularly skilled in capturing the essence of the Western Cape Landscape throughout his long, productive life. He recorded urban scenes and landscapes in all seasons and light conditions. He was also a stylistic successor and greatly influenced by Pieter Wenning who drew inspiration from old Cape architecture and landscapes. With Still Life Blomstudie (Flower Study) (Lot 259), a flower study from 1941 the viewer can observe the influences of post-impressionist and modernist artists. “One can trace stylistic influences and phases of development in Boonzaier still life paintings to Braque, and The Bloomsbury Group, amongst others,” Hunter explains.

Boonzaier’s paintings form part of nearly 300 lots of modern, post-war and contemporary art that are up for auction this coming week. The Dr Matthys Johannes Strydom Family Collection will be presented in two instalments. Strauss & Co will introduce 190 works with broad collector appeal in a timed-online sale starting at 2pm on Tuesday, 22 November 2022. At 7pm on the same day, Strauss & Co will host a live-virtual sale in Cape Town of high-value works by Walter Battiss, Gregoire Boonzaier, Erik Laubscher, Maggie Laubser and other 20th century artists.

Boonzaier was very ambitious and a man of great energy. “His involvement in education and explanation of world art trends helped foster a new generation of collectors and increased the appreciation of the arts in South Africa,” Hunter concludes.

The sale is open for viewing at  Welgemeend (2 Welgemeend Street, Gardens) weekdays from 10am – 5pm, and weekends 10m to 1pm.

To view Catalogue – click Here

Related Articles

Back to top button