Mon, 17th Jul 2017 17:00

Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art

Lot 138
Lot 138 - George Pemba (South Africa 1912-2001)


George Pemba (South Africa 1912-2001)
On the bus

oil on canvas board

Artwork date: 1974
Signature details: signed and dated

Sold for R363,776
Estimated at R280,000 - R340,000

Condition Report

To be cleaned and revarnished.

Please note, we are not qualified conservators and these reports give our opinion as to the general condition of the works. We advise that bidders view the lots in person to satisfy themselves with the condition of prospective purchases.


oil on canvas board

Artwork date: 1974
Signature details: signed and dated


49.5 x 74.5 cm

Acquired from the artist.


It was Gerard Sekoto who advised George Pemba to switch to oil painting and to broaden his subject matter from portraits to scenes describing township life. Pemba was on a trip to Cape Town in 1942 when he met this fellow pioneer of South African painting. Sekoto, who went into exile in 1947, was later to describe himself, John Koenakeefe Mohl, Pemba and Gerard Benghu as the ‘thirties generation’ of South African artists (Hudleston 1996: 39).Pemba also expressed a desire to live and work in Paris and London, but was never able to, due to family responsibilities. Instead, he stayed home and faced the music as apartheid intensified over the following decades. He ‘survived riots, family deaths, detentions and almost constant poverty’, but never stopped painting (Hudleston 1996: 14). Although he didn’t become actively involved in politics, he expressed his outrage and struggles through paintings like this one, which depicts the kinds of everyday characters one would encounter on a regular bus journey home.Although the mood is bleak – with the windows of the bus murky and cracked, the child remonstrating in his mother’s arms and the young boy in the foreground slouching in boredom – a golden light shines through, illuminating the red shirt of the young woman with her grocery basket and picking up on a detail in the jacket of the dutiful working woman with her black umbrella and hat.As a definitive work of South African documentary realism, this painting prefigures photographer David Goldblatt’s 1989 series, The Transported of KwaNdebele, in which he documented workers on their daily commute to and from Pretoria, leaving as early at 2.45am and returning as late as ten at night. Depicting an earlier era, Pemba’s painting is bathed in a Modernist aura of post-Victorian dignity and stoicism.

Alexandra Dodd


Hudleston, S. (1996) Against All Odds. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball.

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Auction: Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art, Mon, 17th Jul 2017

Aspire Art Auctions’ second Johannesburg sale offered a selection of some of the best works produced by local and international artists available on the local market. Offerings included Cameroonian-born, Belgium-based, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Chilean, Eugenio Dittborn, and South Africans, William Kentridge, Kendell Geers, Louis Maqhubela, Cecil Skotnes, Maggie Laubser, Irma Stern, and Mohau Modisakeng, amongst others.

The sale was led by an international auction record of R1 200 320 achieved for a drawing, Children under Apartheid, by exiled South African artist Dumile Feni, as well as the successful sale of top international lot Golden Mask by renowned performance artist Marina Abramović. 


Friday 14 July 2017 | 10 am – 7 pm
Saturday 15 July 2017 | 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday 16 July 2017 | 10 am – 4 pm

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