HAVING UNEXPECTEDLY been granted a day off (two, actually) I was quite content popping over to New Bond Street yesterday just in the nick of time to see Bonhams’ South African Sale before they went up for auction today. Out of pure ignorance, I used to think South African art was all mediocre before slowly discovering its small but noteworthy patches of brilliance. Francois Krige is one of them. Of the three galleries at Bonhams devoted to the South African Sale (Part II, strictly speaking) one of them darkened with individual lights highlighting the particular pieces hanging on the walls.
Krige’s painting of Clifton beach (above) was tucked into a corner and captivated me immediately. Some art looks better on a screen than in real life, but this was the opposite. The colours and strokes hypnotised me and transported me back to the strand itself, with the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks that divide Clifton’s five beaches. For a number of minutes I stood there entranced by Krige’s view and made two failed attempts to move on before finally tearing myself away.
There were five Kriges up for auction, but besides Clifton only the two portraits — “Xhosa girl” and “Gardener (Montagu)” — intrigued me. The strong colours and delineation mark Krige’s work though the same qualities are not unknown in the more popular, the more expensive (and in my opinion overpriced) Irma Stern. “Watussi Woman”, the best Stern in the show, reached £1,161,250 (R14,768,900 / €1,334,623 / $1,846,852) before the final gavel, easily the highest-earning of the sale. Rather typically of my tastes (and the depressed market), of the five works by Francois Krige included in today’s sale only one sold, a Cape Town cityscape from within the artist’s Dorp Street studio (£16,250 / R206,538).