SOLD! Gerard Sekoto’s “Three School Girls” Fetches More Than $400,000 At Bonhams–Almost Double Its Low Estimate

Sekoto school girls

Update: Gerard Sekoto’s Three School Girls sold for £308,750 ($401,207)–almost double its low estimate.

 

What you see: Three School Girls, an oil on board painted by South African artist Gerard Sekoto sometime between 1940 and 1947. Bonhams estimates it at £120,000 to £180,000 ($160,000 to $230,000).

 

Who was Gerard Sekoto? Born in 1913 in what was then the South African province of Eastern Transvaal, he began showing artistic talent as a teenager. Art schools aimed at black students didn’t exist in South Africa in the early 20th century, so he trained as a teacher instead and studied art as best he could. He lived in several different areas in South Africa before leaving for Paris in 1947 for what’s been described as a “self-imposed exile”. Sekoto spent a year in Senegal in 1966, but he never made his home on the African continent again. In his final years, he started to gain recognition for his work. He died in Paris in 1993, at the age of 79.

 

The expert: Eliza Sawyer, a specialist in modern and contemporary African art at Bonhams.

 

How prolific was Sekoto? It largely depends on which period you’re talking about. The period of Three School Girls was not so prolific. It was before he left South Africa for Paris. Those works are rarer, and hard to come by. He didn’t have easy access to materials, and he was still finding his voice. He was much more prolific after he left for Paris in 1947.

 

How often do pre-1947 Sekoto works come to market? There have been a handful in the last few years. When they come up, they tend to fetch high sums. His most valuable period is between when he left Sophiatown [a township near Johannesburg] and when he left for Paris. It was a very short period of his life–seven years. Maybe one Sekoto work a year comes up from that time. What’s rare for this sale we have in September is a particular collector bought two works from a Sekoto show in 1947 [and consigned them both]. To have two works from that period in the same sale is quite extraordinary, but they’re from the same collection.

 

How do we know this Sekoto painting dates to between 1940 and 1947? The most obvious point would be the subject matter–three little girls on an almost-mud street in a township. Parisian pictures tend to be of jazz bars and the Seine. The other thing that’s distinctive is the color palette. Up to 1947, Sekoto gravitated toward a very earthy palette of reds, browns, and yellows that reflected the colors of the ground in South African townships, and reflected the kinds of clothes people wore and the dyes that were available. Also, in 1940, he met Judith Gluckman, an artist who introduced him to oil painting. The fact that this is painted in oils and not household poster paint suggests it was executed after 1940.

 

The surface of the paint looks rugged and thick. Is that typical for Sekoto? What I’d say is unusual about the surface of the work is how unspoiled it is. Gerard Sekoto did use impasto [he painted in thick layers] and he mixed sand and grit in to create texture. Gritty, thick texture is more characteristic of his early style. But most of his works from this period don’t survive well. They have craquelure [the paint is covered with a network of cracks], and the surface attracted dirt. To see a work in this good a condition, with no paint loss and minor dirt, is incredibly unusual. Later, he worked in watercolors and gouache, and his brush strokes were more fluid and loose.

 

How did Sekoto work doing that seven-year period in the 1940s, when he painted Three School Girls? He would carry notepaper in his pockets. The people he saw were not accustomed to people making their portraits, so he would pull out a piece of scrap paper, sketch quickly, and come to his studio with his pockets full of ideas.

 

This painting is relatively small, measuring 15 15/16 inches by 19 7/8 inches. Is that because he was working from small sketches done on scrap paper? Earlier pieces tend to be smaller than works created in Paris. It’s partly related to the Post-It note size of his sketches and partly from an awareness of using up all his material. In this period, we see him work the same piece of canvas over and over, particularly as he tried to learn  his craft.

 

Three School Girls is fresh to market, having gone from the late 1940s selling exhibition to the consigner to Bonhams. Is that unusual for a Sekoto? Yes, it is quite unusual. I’d say Sekoto works have hugely appreciated in value over the last 10 years, partly due to his status as a pioneer of South African modernism.

 

Did Bonhams play a role in raising Sekoto’s profile? In 2008, we were the first international auction house to hold a stand-alone sale of South African art, and Gerard Sekoto was one of the artists we featured. We put up a work from his District 6 period, which is a few years before the period when he made Three School Girls, for an estimate of £200,000 to £300,000, and it made in excess of £600,000. It was an eye-opening moment for us and for the art market as well–it showed that Sekoto is an artist to take very seriously.

 

What’s the world auction record for a Sekoto? It’s held by Bonhams for a work sold for £602,400 ($784,694) in 2011, depicting a yellow house he saw in District 6. He didn’t live in this particular house, but he’d walk past it on a day-to-day basis between 1942 and 1945. It’s very similar in style and period to Three School Girls, which probably dates to 1945 to 1947. It was also painted in gritty impasto, and is around the same size as Three School Girls.

 

Does Three School Girls have the potential to set a new auction record for the artist? When I saw the work, my first thought was it really is something special, potentially a record painting. We haven’t seen one of comparable quality and style since 2011 [the year that Bonhams sold Yellow Houses, District Six]. The market has changed and demand has changed, but if any painting has a shot at breaking the record for a Sekoto, it could be this one.

 

What about Portrait of a Man (Lentswana)the other Sekoto painting that the consigner sent to this auction? It’s from the same period and is around the same size. The reason we put a slightly higher estimate on Three School Girls is it’s a more universal image. The other is a wonderfully intimate human portrait, but some collectors are not comfortable having particular likenesses hanging in their home. It’s like having a picture of another person’s grandfather. That’s the thought behind this particular estimate.

 

What is Three School Girls like in person? The first thing that strikes you is the size. In this day and age, particularly if you collect contemporary art, you’re used to monumental canvases. This painting is different. It’s intimate in scale, and it draws you in. The colors are warm and earthy. They’re not colors that are considered colorful or sexy for an urban apartment. But it transports you to a totally different time, a totally different country. You can feel the heat rising up from the dusty road the girls are walking on.

 

Why will this painting stick in your memory? Having been a schoolgirl myself, it’s quite a nostalgic image. I’m a white British woman living in London, and looking at it brings back memories. I remember being dressed in my schoolgirl uniform, walking to school with my friends. The artist somehow manages to forge a connection I find quite touching.

 

How to bid: Three School Girls is lot 25 in The South African Sale, which takes place at Bonhams London on September 12, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

A namesake foundation celebrates Gerard Sekoto’s lifetime of work.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

 

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Pay Attention, Class: Bonhams Could Sell South African Artist Gerard Sekoto’s “Three School Girls” for $230,000

Sekoto school girls

What you see: Three School Girls, an oil on board painted by South African artist Gerard Sekoto sometime between 1940 and 1947. Bonhams estimates it at £120,000 to £180,000 ($160,000 to $230,000).

 

Who was Gerard Sekoto? Born in 1913 in what was then the South African province of Eastern Transvaal, he began showing artistic talent as a teenager. Art schools aimed at black students didn’t exist in South Africa in the early 20th century, so he trained as a teacher instead and studied art as best he could. He lived in several different areas in South Africa before leaving for Paris in 1947 for what’s been described as a “self-imposed exile”. Sekoto spent a year in Senegal in 1966, but he never made his home on the African continent again. In his final years, he started to gain recognition for his work. He died in Paris in 1993, at the age of 79.

 

The expert: Eliza Sawyer, a specialist in modern and contemporary African art at Bonhams.

 

How prolific was Sekoto? It largely depends on which period you’re talking about. The period of Three School Girls was not so prolific. It was before he left South Africa for Paris. Those works are rarer, and hard to come by. He didn’t have easy access to materials, and he was still finding his voice. He was much more prolific after he left for Paris in 1947.

 

How often do pre-1947 Sekoto works come to market? There have been a handful in the last few years. When they come up, they tend to fetch high sums. His most valuable period is between when he left Sophiatown [a township near Johannesburg] and when he left for Paris. It was a very short period of his life–seven years. Maybe one Sekoto work a year comes up from that time. What’s rare for this sale we have in September is a particular collector bought two works from a Sekoto show in 1947 [and consigned them both]. To have two works from that period in the same sale is quite extraordinary, but they’re from the same collection.

 

How do we know this Sekoto painting dates to between 1940 and 1947? The most obvious point would be the subject matter–three little girls on an almost-mud street in a township. Parisian pictures tend to be of jazz bars and the Seine. The other thing that’s distinctive is the color palette. Up to 1947, Sekoto gravitated toward a very earthy palette of reds, browns, and yellows that reflected the colors of the ground in South African townships, and reflected the kinds of clothes people wore and the dyes that were available. Also, in 1940, he met Judith Gluckman, an artist who introduced him to oil painting. The fact that this is painted in oils and not household poster paint suggests it was executed after 1940.

 

The surface of the paint looks rugged and thick. Is that typical for Sekoto? What I’d say is unusual about the surface of the work is how unspoiled it is. Gerard Sekoto did use impasto [he painted in thick layers] and he mixed sand and grit in to create texture. Gritty, thick texture is more characteristic of his early style. But most of his works from this period don’t survive well. They have craquelure [the paint is covered with a network of cracks], and the surface attracted dirt. To see a work in this good a condition, with no paint loss and minor dirt, is incredibly unusual. Later, he worked in watercolors and gouache, and his brush strokes were more fluid and loose.

 

How did Sekoto work doing that seven-year period in the 1940s, when he painted Three School Girls? He would carry notepaper in his pockets. The people he saw were not accustomed to people making their portraits, so he would pull out a piece of scrap paper, sketch quickly, and come to his studio with his pockets full of ideas.

 

This painting is relatively small, measuring 15 15/16 inches by 19 7/8 inches. Is that because he was working from small sketches done on scrap paper? Earlier pieces tend to be smaller than works created in Paris. It’s partly related to the Post-It note size of his sketches and partly from an awareness of using up all his material. In this period, we see him work the same piece of canvas over and over, particularly as he tried to learn  his craft.

 

Three School Girls is fresh to market, having gone from the late 1940s selling exhibition to the consigner to Bonhams. Is that unusual for a Sekoto? Yes, it is quite unusual. I’d say Sekoto works have hugely appreciated in value over the last 10 years, partly due to his status as a pioneer of South African modernism.

 

Did Bonhams play a role in raising Sekoto’s profile? In 2008, we were the first international auction house to hold a stand-alone sale of South African art, and Gerard Sekoto was one of the artists we featured. We put up a work from his District 6 period, which is a few years before the period when he made Three School Girls, for an estimate of £200,000 to £300,000, and it made in excess of £600,000. It was an eye-opening moment for us and for the art market as well–it showed that Sekoto is an artist to take very seriously.

 

What’s the world auction record for a Sekoto? It’s held by Bonhams for a work sold for £602,400 ($784,694) in 2011, depicting a yellow house he saw in District 6. He didn’t live in this particular house, but he’d walk past it on a day-to-day basis between 1942 and 1945. It’s very similar in style and period to Three School Girls, which probably dates to 1945 to 1947. It was also painted in gritty impasto, and is around the same size as Three School Girls.

 

Does Three School Girls have the potential to set a new auction record for the artist? When I saw the work, my first thought was it really is something special, potentially a record painting. We haven’t seen one of comparable quality and style since 2011 [the year that Bonhams sold Yellow Houses, District Six]. The market has changed and demand has changed, but if any painting has a shot at breaking the record for a Sekoto, it could be this one.

 

What about Portrait of a Man (Lentswana)the other Sekoto painting that the consigner sent to this auction? It’s from the same period and is around the same size. The reason we put a slightly higher estimate on Three School Girls is it’s a more universal image. The other is a wonderfully intimate human portrait, but some collectors are not comfortable having particular likenesses hanging in their home. It’s like having a picture of another person’s grandfather. That’s the thought behind this particular estimate.

 

What is Three School Girls like in person? The first thing that strikes you is the size. In this day and age, particularly if you collect contemporary art, you’re used to monumental canvases. This painting is different. It’s intimate in scale, and it draws you in. The colors are warm and earthy. They’re not colors that are considered colorful or sexy for an urban apartment. But it transports you to a totally different time, a totally different country. You can feel the heat rising up from the dusty road the girls are walking on.

 

Why will this painting stick in your memory? Having been a schoolgirl myself, it’s quite a nostalgic image. I’m a white British woman living in London, and looking at it brings back memories. I remember being dressed in my schoolgirl uniform, walking to school with my friends. The artist somehow manages to forge a connection I find quite touching.

 

How to bid: Three School Girls is lot 25 in The South African Sale, which takes place at Bonhams London on September 12, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

A namesake foundation celebrates Gerard Sekoto’s lifetime of work.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

A Rare Bird! Heritage Auctions Could Sell a Gorgeous and Exceptionally Scarce 1834 Ornithological Book for $20,000

Oiseaux brillans du Brésil Courlis Rouge credit Heritage Auctions

What you see: An 1834 first edition of Oiseaux brillans du Brésil by Jean Théodore Descourtilz. Heritage Auctions estimates it around $20,000. Featured above is the Red Curlew plate from the book.

 

The expert: James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage Auctions.

 

I see the quote in the lot notes from Rubens Borba de Moraes, the former director of the United Nations library in New York, saying, “This book is so rare that I had begun to doubt its existence,” but how many copies are there? Do we know? From what we can tell, we think this is the fifth known copy.

 

Can you talk about how the book came to be? Was Descourtilz the illustrator? He did illustrate it. It was toward the end of the color plate period, which ran from 1790 to 1830. It was fairly early for a hand-colored ornithological [bird] book. Audubon was contemporaneous in the 1830s. This book was never published. It was issued, and someone made lithographs that were then hand-colored, but it was never published, and never had a table of contents or text. The lithographic plates were put together in a book. I don’t know much about Descourtilz. I’d never heard of him before the book crossed my path. His dad was a botanist and a physician who did a book on the flora of the Antilles. Descourtilz did the illustrations for his father’s book. It’s better known because it was published.

 

The book is described as a first edition, but it was not published. Why might it have been made? It was probably a mockup, made to engender interest from publishers and get the money to be able to produce the book.

 

Was it intended to be sold by subscription, as Audubon’s Birds of America was? Maybe the [60] plates were issued in five groups of 12. That was the style then. Audubon published in parts. The reason they did it was so they could start reaping profits against their costs sooner.

 

The lot notes say the book has 60 plates. Does that mean it’s complete? I don’t know, but there’s no reason to think there were more. We call it complete. Other copies might have a similar number or a lesser number. Whether he envisioned an epic work like Audubon, we don’t know.

 

Are all the plates in the book as vibrant as the Red Curlew plate, shown above? Pretty much. I think it’s just a matter of [the book] being closed. We don’t know much about where it came from beyond being in the same family for decades. It probably was not handled very much over the almost 200 years since it was made.

 

The lot notes say the book’s illustrations are “heightened with gum arabic.” How did that detailing enhance the plates? Gum arabic is a clear sheen, almost a clear varnish. Lots of color plate books use it. You’d put it over the color in certain places so it created a sheen when you looked at it. It makes the plates look more vibrant, and it catches the light in different places. It would help make the plates stand out. [The effect is not visible in the photo shown.]

 

The book is French, but it has no text. Does that make it more appealing to American collectors, or does it not matter? It doesn’t matter in this case, because it wasn’t issued with text. The collector for this is someone who collects bird books or hand-colored plate books. Anyone sophisticated enough to spend tens of thousands on a book understands why it has no text.

 

And we don’t know why it wasn’t published? Descourtilz may never have found the backing. Maybe there were other reasons why it was never published. It was certainly publishable if the right circumstances existed. If there was a similar kind of thing for Audubon [Birds of America], where Audubon made lithographs and had them hand-colored to get the backing, get the money [to make it]–if that existed, it’d really be worth a lot, because it predated the book.

 

How did this book come to you? It came through another person on staff. She told me the family had had it for a long time, decades. The consigner had a connection to one of the people listed in the front of the book, which is why I think it sat for 80 to 100 years on a shelf. It didn’t get looked at by book fairs and dealers. They [the family] probably didn’t think about it for a long time.

 

How did you arrive at a value for this book? It hasn’t come on the auction market. There are so few copies around. Probably, other collectors and dealers have never seen it. There may be more copies we don’t know about that have never become public. If it sold for mid-five figures, we’d be satisfied.

 

What was it like to look at it for the first time? I didn’t see it until it had been researched by [Heritage Auctions] staff. We knew it was special, and we knew we wanted to use it in the advertising campaign [for the auction].

 

What is it like to leaf through it, and how does that experience compare to handling Audubon’s Birds of America? I’ve seen Audubon many times. Here, everything is a surprise, everything is new. Many of the plates are stunningly beautiful.

 

Why will it stick in your memory? How rare it is to see this book. There aren’t many around. Many more people have seen our catalog cover with the Red Curlew on it than have actually seen the book.

 

How to bidOiseaux brillans du Brésil is lot #45090 in the Rare Books & Maps Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on September 13, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

 

James Gannon has appeared three other times on The Hot Bid, speaking about the typewriters Larry McMurtry used to write Lonesome Dove; a British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that ultimately sold for a world auction record; and an inscribed presentation copy of Jack Keroauc’s On the Road.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.