27th Mar, 2017 15:00

Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art

Lot 167
Lot 167 - Christo Coetzee (South Africa 1929-2000)


Christo Coetzee (South Africa 1929-2000)

oil on canvas board

Artwork date: 1960
Signature details: signed and dated; signed, dated ‘65, inscribed with the title and ‘Paris’ on the reverse

Sold for R56,840
Estimated at R50,000 - R70,000


oil on canvas board

Artwork date: 1960
Signature details: signed and dated; signed, dated ‘65, inscribed with the title and ‘Paris’ on the reverse


54 x 36.5 cm


Up to the early-1950s, a time when the American and European post-war generation was pursuing abstraction as a way to counter the legacy of rationalism, Christo Coetzee focused primarily on the representation of natural appearances – still lifes, figures, flowers – as was evident in his first solo exhibition in Cape Town in 1951, shortly before he left for London. In London he started experimenting with abstraction, with ping-pong balls, painted pieces of cloth, wire and found objects – a process he explored further during a four month study visit to Italy in 1956. In Rome he encountered the work of Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) and Alberto Burri (1915-1995), “two masters when it comes to probing canvas, questioning it according to spacial concepts, puncturing it, slitting it, treating it as skin” (Gentric 2013). As Coetzee remarked, these encounters stimulated further inquiry into “intellectual overtones that was to me more important than the talent with which one could express a more recognisable visible product with facility” (Botha 1984:38).But it was the theories of the influential theorist and art critic Michel Tapié de Ceyleran that “provided a theoretical framework for Coetzee’s own intuitive and organic approach to the creative process” (Stevenson & Viljoen 2001:20). Tapié rejected “tame abstraction” and advocated l’art informel, “a more vigorous, challenging and expressive approach to the making of art” (2001:20), a term referring to a number of approaches to abstract painting in the 1940s and 1950s that had in common an improvisatory methodology and highly gestural technique.After the trip to Italy, Coetzee decided to move to Paris in 1956 where he stayed for the next ten years. Shell dates from this period, marked by the use of intense colour, linear and textural effects often applied in thick impasto, and asymmetrical compositions indicative of Coetzee’s flair for decorative Baroque elements.It would not be far-fetched to recognise in this painting references to Coetzee’s personal study of microscopic cell structures and his interest in space travel. In a 1973 TIME article, pasted into a scrapbook now part of the Christo Coetzee collection of the University of Northwest in Potchefstroom, Coetzee underlined an observation by the writer of the article, Mayo Mohs, that “celestial phenomena such as supernovae and black holes have become a subject for metaphysical conjecture”, and that “black holes might be passageways to another universe”.

Johan Myburg


Botha, E. (1984). Christo Coetzee: Skilder van die veranderlike konstante. In: Lantern 33(2):36-48. Adult Education Division, Union Education Department.

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Auction: Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art, 27th Mar, 2017

The Inaugural Cape Auction offed a diverse range of top-quality historic, modern and contemporary works. With a focus on critically engaged art and a curated approach, seasoned and new collectors competed to acquire significant works.

Aspire’s commitment to the growth of the art market saw international records broken in recognition of exiled South African artists. Louis Maqhubela’s Exiled King, a definitive, politically motivated work, sold for R341,040 - three times his previous record, and Albert Adams’ Untitled (Four Figures with Pitchforks), his first appearance at auction, sold for R136,416. Top prices were also achieved for established artists including J.H Pierneef, William Kentridge, and Edoardo Villa, and contemporary artwork fared exceptionally with record prices for David Brown, Steven Cohen, Mohau Modisakeng, Moshekwa Langa, and Mikhael Subotzky.


Friday 24 March 2017 | 10 am – 7 pm
Saturday 25 March 2017 | 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday 26 March 2017 | 10 am – 4 pm

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