The Oliver Powell and Timely Investments Trust Collection explores innovation and tradition in South African painting

The Oliver Powell and Timely Investments Trust Collection is an expression of Oliver Powell’s refined taste for modern and contemporary painting.

A highlight of Cape Town Auction Week, Strauss & Co’s four-day programme of auctions featuring art, design, jewellery and wine (18-21 September 2022), is The Oliver Powell and Timely Investments Trust Collection. Presented in a standalone evening session on Tuesday, 20 September 2022 at 7pm, this impressive collection of post-war and contemporary art includes works by revered names like Deborah Bell, Kate Gottgens, Robert Hodgins, William Kentridge, John Mohl, Fred Page, Stanley Pinker, Jo Ractliffe, Simon Stone and Alfred Thoba.

Powell began acquiring works for the collection in the early 1990s. His principal focus has been South African painting, sculpture and works on paper made since 1950, with a particular emphasis on contemporary painting. Informed by his personal relationships with important artists and dealers, notably Robert Hodgins and Louis Schachat, amongst others, the 110 lots on offer reveal Powell’s consistent focus on the human figure as well as his preference for bold colour, graphic ingenuity and emotional weight.

“Your moods and tastes change over time as a collector, but there is a foundation that remains, which for me it is the figure,” says Oliver Powell. He stresses the importance of his many encounters with artists for shaping his collecting practice. “There is so much value in meeting an artist. Aspects and details of their life are reflected in what and how they paint.”

Works by Robert Hodgins form the largest holding by a single artist in the collection. “You can see the agony of Robert’s tough childhood in his work,” says Powell, who knew the artist personally. Strauss & Co is very pleased to be offering 13 works by Hodgins, including eight fresh-to-market paintings acquired by Powell in London when Hodgins exhibited in his birthplace in 2003 and 2008. Highlights include A John Webster Painting: A Grinning Skull Wrapped in a Shroud (estimate R350 000 – 500 00) and Twenty Pedestrians (estimate R300 000 – 400 000).

“The Oliver Powell and Timely Investments Trust Collection is an expression of Oliver Powell’s refined taste for modern and contemporary painting,” says Kirsty Colledge, Head of the Art Department, Strauss & Co, Cape Town. “The broad range of works in this collection provides an important reference of developments in South African painting since 1950. It includes works by George Pemba and John Mohl, pioneer black modernists who have delivered increasingly strong results to market. The competitive estimates for the 110-lot consignment will be attractive to new and seasoned collectors looking to acquire benchmark paintings like Simon Stone’s The Soldier Who Lost his Rifle and Deborah Bell’s Velázquez-inspired Witness: Midbrain.”
The presentation of The Oliver Powell and Timely Investments Trust Collection has been carefully curated by Strauss & Co to highlight ten important artists held in the collection. Effectively functioning as mini surveys, these in-session artist focuses will draw attention to Deborah Bell, Robert Hodgins, Fred Schimmel, Alfred Thoba, Fred Page, Simon Stone, Kate Gottgens, Brett Murray, Warrick Kemp and Jo Ractliffe.

Notable high-value works on offer include William Kentridge’s important 1988 screenprint on brown paper, Art in a State of Siege (estimate R400 000 – 600 000), and Stanley Pinker’s Boating (estimate R400 000 – 600 000), a dreamy portrayal of a boat outing. Also acquired in London, Karel Nel’s 2015 composition Dish (estimate R400 000 – 600 000) centrally depicts an unusual wooden dish produced by the Dan people of Liberia. Bidding for works from the Oliver Powell and Timely Investments Trust Collection will open with Georgina Gratrix’s 2016 portrait, Another Loud Man in a Suit, a sardonic figural study that declares Powell’s sharp eye for innovation and tradition in South African painting.

E-Catalogue – click here 

Robert Hodgins: a life in colour

The late-modernist artist Robert Hodgins takes centre stage at Strauss & Co’s Cape Town Auction Week, a four-day programme of auctions from 18 to 21 September. The Oliver Powell and Timely Investments Trust Collection, presented in a stand-alone evening session on Tuesday evening, 20 September is one of the highlights of Cape Town Auction Week.

The 110 lots on offer reveal Powell’s consistent focus on the human figure as well as his preference for bold colour, graphic ingenuity and emotional weight. Hodgins’ work forms the largest holding by a single artist in the collection – Strauss & Co is excited to be offering 13 artworks by Hodgins, including eight fresh-to-market paintings acquired by Powell in London (Robert’s birthplace) where Hodgins exhibited in 2003 and 2008. “You can see the agony of Robert’s tough childhood in his work,” says Powell, who knew the artist personally.

Wilhelm van Rensburg, a senior art specialist at the fine art auctioneers also knew Hodgins, both in a personal and professional capacity. “I met him through my wife, Alet Vorster, who owns the Art On Paper gallery. The gallery only specialised in, as the name suggests: artwork on paper. Alet curated many exhibitions of his drawings, watercolours, and prints. We were fortunate to know him quite well.” Hodgins liked the idea of such a niche gallery representing his work, Van Rensburg recalls. Vorster’s gallery was at the 44 Stanley lifestyle centre in Braamfontein Werf. The artist would regularly come over for lunch at one of the centre’s restaurants. “While we chatted, he would often stop mid-sentence, notice something and exclaim: ‘Look at that! Where is my sketchbook?’ “He would then proceed to draw the feature or character that piqued his attention,” Van Rensburg remembers.

It was also a treat to visit his studio in Midrand.  “At any time, visitors would be met by an outdoor exhibition of about 30 canvasses drying in the sun.”

Hodgins would work on several artworks at a time – he created art in the same way he approached his life – with largess, optimism and creative excess. “He sadly passed away in 2010, dying three months shy of 90,” Van Rensburg says.

A full life

Hodgins had an interesting, although challenging life. His mother abandoned him as a child and it was only after his retirement in his mid-sixties that his career as an artist took off. He was born in 1920 in Dulwich, a village close to London in the United Kingdom and raised by a single mother, who dropped him off at a children’s home before his 13th birthday. “Hodgins had to fend for himself in Depression-era London. He sold newspapers and delivered magazines to subscribers for extra pocket money,” Van Rensburg says.  He often visited the art museums “because they were free, warm and dry. “I had a rotten childhood. I started work in Soho and I just watched people go by. I had gone to the Tate because it was warm and dry, and I had seen Van Gogh’s yellow chair and liked that,” he told artist Kathryn Smith in an interview.

In 1938, around the age of 18 years, his -great-uncle in Cape Town reached out to him and offered to pay for his passage to South Africa. Along with the money for his boat ticket, the uncle also sent him “a bit extra” and instructed him “to buy a suit and some nice shoes.” The “suit and nice shoes” would become a recurring theme in his artwork. “For Hodgins, it was a symbol of respectability and armour in a hostile world, but also of the hypocrisy of the so-called captains of industry, toxic male power and predatory capitalism,” Van Rensburg explains.  The artist explains it as such: “I look at these men in their suits, and I’m not sure… they could be criminals or they all could be victims of circumstance. I wouldn’t say I feel sorry for them, but I do faintly have enough dishonesty in me to understand how they got there.”

Late bloomer

In 1944 Hodgins returned to England, where he studied art and education at Goldsmiths College at the University of London, before returning to South Africa in 1954 to teach. First, he taught at the Pretoria Technical College School of Art, and then for nearly twenty years at the University of the Witwatersrand. He also contributed as an art critic to a magazine called Newscheck. Hodgins only became a full-time artist in the early 1980s, after his retirement. It was also during this period in his life that he achieved critical acclaim as an artist. “Hodgins was fascinated by French symbolist Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi. The play had a significant influence on the way Hodgins depicts his characters in his paintings” says Van Rensburg. In Jarry’s farce, Père Ubu – a mediocre, middle-level official–is urged by his wife to murder Poland’s royal family to become king himself. Père Ubu becomes a trope in Hodgins’ artworks. Different tongue-in-cheek versions of him appear as power-hungry despots, predatory businessmen, corrupt politicians and nitpicky bureaucrats.

In an interview, he admitted that he did not find the human race very honourable, but endlessly fascinating. Although he approached his subjects with satire, Hodgin’s characters also possess a bizarre vulnerability. He wanted to display their soft underbelly under the pomp and suits and expose their fears and their weakness. His ability to recognize his own flaws and his ability to laugh at himself brought humanity and humour to his work.

“The odd thing is, when you talk about my characters, they can start off with a blob of red on green, just to see how they fire off each other. By the time I’ve finished them, I have gotten to know them as somebody. This is interesting – is it in an imaginary world? A literary world? Or the real world? ” he ponders.

The work Minor Bavarian Royalty a highlight of the sale (ZAR 200 000 – 300 000) demonstrates the artist’s ability to puncture self-important characters and render them frail. In this painting, he used straight lines and vivid, jewellike hues of emerald green, citrine and ruby red, but juxtaposed them with amoebic outlines and a farcelike presence of two figures born into privilege. The viewer gets the impression that beneath the veneer of the costumes and insignia, the two figures are deeply insecure about their power and position in the hierarchy.

Source: Some General Rules: Robert Hodgins in Conversation with Kathryn Smith. 2008

Modern and Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts, Jewellery and Wine including The Property of an Oriental Collector, The Property of the Estate Late Tiemen Groen, The Property of a Connoisseur Part III, The Louis & Mavis Shill Collection of Cape Silver and The Oliver Powell and Timely Investments Trust Collection  – Sunday 18th September 2022 – Wednesday 21st September.

Related Articles

Back to top button