What Art Crime Says About South African Art Market – artmarketblog.com
It is interesting how much of a connection there is between art thefts and global art trends. By analysing instances of art theft one can gain quite a substantial and valuable insight into the direction the global art market is taking and how different sectors of the art market are developing.
Take, for example, the recent theft of art from the Pretoria Art Museum museum in South Africa. Not only does this theft indicate that the market for South African artists is growing, it also provides an indication as to which South African artists are most in demand.
Robbed on the 11th of November by a group of gun-wielding thieves posing as art students, the Pretoria Art museum was relieved of five paintings by five different artists including Gerard Sekoto, J.H. Pierneef and Irma Stern. Thankfully, the clueless thieves left the most expensive painting of the haul – Irma Stern’s Two Malay Musicians – on the sidewalk because it would not fit in their car.
Four of the five paintings that the thieves did manage to get away with were recovered a few days later in a cemetery after an informer contacted police and told them where to find the paintings. The only painting that wasn’t returned was a painting of a street scene by Gerard Sekoto.
The Pretoria theft was not the only instance of art crime to have occurred in South Africa in recent times. At the beginning of October a valuable painting by Pierneef was identified as having gone missing from the Totius Museum in Potchefstroom
Only a day after the Pretoria theft, South African auction house Strauss and Co. Fine Art Auctioneers held a highly successful sale of Important South African and International art in Johannesburg that realised in excess of R33 million (US$3,726,623).
As well as setting a new auction record for Walter Battiss, the auction house also achieved the second and third highest prices at auction for Alexis Preller. All three paintings sold for well above their presale estimate.
Commenting on the sale, the director of Strauss and Co. said: “The South African public has been left aghast at the value of work stolen from the Pretoria Art Museum only to be followed the next day by record prices paid for paintings by Alexis Preller and Walter Battiss amongst others which ran into millions of rands at a Strauss & Co’s auction in Johannesburg.
“The auction realised in excess of R33 000 000 and many in the audience were astounded when ten of the paintings offered realised more than three times their presale estimate. One in particular Girl with an Oriole by Alexis Preller with a presale estimate of R600 000 sold for just over R4 000 000, more than six times its presale estimate.”
On the 22nd of October, Strauss and Co. auctioned the entire contents of Keerweder, regarded as one of the finest monuments in the entire Franschhoek Valley by acclaimed author and art historian Dr Hans Fransen. Held in Cape Town, the highlight of the sale was Jacob Hendrik Pierneef’s Kameeldoring, Kalahari which sold for 946,900 ZAR (US$121,320) against an estimate of 800,000 – 1,200,000 ZAR.
Two weeks prior yet another successful Strauss and Co. auction resulted in the sale of Irma Stern’s Still Life with Pomegranates for 7,798,000 ZAR (US $999,103) against an estimate of 5,000,000 – 7,000,000 ZAR.
Perhaps museums in South Africa will increase their security now that the market for work by South Africa’s most famous artists is becoming so popular.
Image: Irma Stern’s Still Life with Pomegranates
*Nicholas Forrest is a Sydney/London based art market analyst, art consultant and writer. He is the founder of the Art Market Blog (artmarketblog.com) which offers independent commentaries as well as research and analysis on the current art market, and has recently been published in Fabrik magazine, Verve magazine, Visual Art Beat magazine, Australian Art Collector magazine, Art & Investment magazine and many others. Nic has made several radio appearances (both nationally and internationally) as an art market expert and has received press from the likes of the New York Times, Conde Nast Portfolio and Times of London.
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