25th Mar, 2018 18:00

Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art

Lot 105
Lot 105 - Alexis Preller (South African 1911–1975)


Alexis Preller (South African 1911–1975)
Still-life with Vase and Carved Head

oil on panel

Artwork date: 1956
Signature details: signed and dated
Literature: Berman, E. and Nel, K. (2009). Alexis Preller: Collected Images. Johannesburg: Shelf, colour illustration on p.185.

Sold for R795,760
Estimated at R700,000 - R1,000,000


oil on panel

Artwork date: 1956
Signature details: signed and dated
Literature: Berman, E. and Nel, K. (2009). Alexis Preller: Collected Images. Johannesburg: Shelf, colour illustration on p.185.


25 x 30.5 cm


Both the vase and the carved head in this beautiful still-life of 1956 feature regularly in Alexis Preller’s idiosyncratic iconography. They are placed next to each other in Preller’s The Long Shelf (1952), his arrangement of many of what he called his ‘Household Gods’. Individually they form the core of many compositions, for example The Broken Vase (1952) and The Gateway (1949). And they are grouped together, in a rather different arrangement, in Still-Life with Head and Vase of 1955.The vase was a piece of Persian ceramic, apparently valued by the artist for its decorative qualities and for sentimental reasons as a gift from his mother. A symbolic dimension is suggested because in all his varied representations of the vase he chose to emphasize rather than conceal the damage to its neck: perhaps coincidentally, the broken vase has a long symbolic history in European iconography. The significance of the carved head in Preller’s work is rather more complex. This piece of Kenyan tourist art is depicted in the present work in a more or less straightforward manner except that Preller has added the significant detail of the beard. This feature derives from ancient Egyptian representations of pharaohs – and so invites suggestions of divine kingship, spirituality and the afterlife: these themes, and the visual appearance of the carved head, are elaborated in many other works by Preller, notably his iconic series of Young Kings (1957).Some would argue, however, that the real magic of this beautiful still-life is to found more in its formal qualities than in its iconography. The two objects are pushed to the surface by the radical foreshortening of its perspective in which all the horizontal planes are made to read as verticals. The pattern-like matrix of the work is maintained through the use of loosely-drawn African textiles that surround the principal objects. And the deep and resonant colours that he used in this small work and a few other still-life paintings of this time create an ensemble of extraordinary and concentrated harmony.

Michael Godby

With thanks to Karel Nel for permission to reproduce the Persian vase and the Kenyan carved head from Esme Berman and Karel Nel, Alexis Preller, Collected Images, Shelf Publishing, 2009.

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Auction: Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art, 25th Mar, 2018

Aspire Art Auctions brought a unique offering to their second auction in the Cape allowing buyers to add quality and rarity to their collections.

Headlining the success of the auction was as a rare intaglio by Alexis Preller, Gold Angel (Arêté), which sold for R4 638 400. The piece was part of Preller’s last body of work shown at the Goodman Gallery in 1975, and took its place alongside the sale of his mid-period work, the exquisite small study Still life with Vase and Carved Head, which sold for R811 720. Other auction highlights included work by contemporary artists Robert Hodgins, Athi-Patra Ruga, Zander Blom, and Penny Siopis and sculpture by Deborah Bell, Willem Boshoff, Wim Botha, and Amadlozi alumnus Sydney Kumalo.


Friday 23 March 2018 | 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday 24 March 2018 | 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday 25 March 2018 | 10 am – 3 pm

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