Sun, 1st Sep 2019 9:30

Modern & Contemporary Art

Lot 17


William Kentridge (South Africa 1955-)
Set of 5 Polychrome Heads

oil on bronze

Artwork date: 2014
Signature details: each stamped with the artist's initials, FP and the Workhorse Foundry mark on the underside

Sold for R3,657,857
Estimated at R4,000,000 - R6,000,000

Condition Report


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 bronze

Artwork date: 2014
Signature details: each stamped with the artist's initials, FP and the Workhorse Foundry mark on the underside


work 1: 30 x 21 x 8.5 cm; work 2: 27.5 x 15 x 11 cm; work 3: 31 x 17.5 x 10.5 cm; work 4: 30 x 17.5 x 10.5 cm; work 5: 31 x 20 x 11 cm


Sculptural work by the ever-prolific William Kentridge is still relatively rare. Though a fairly regular feature of his oeuvre, it is often in conjunction with other bodies of work or a collaborative venture, such as the iconic Fire walker public sculpture in downtown Johannesburg, created with fellow artist Gerhard Marx.The three dimensional medium also makes sense for the artist when seen as part of a multimedia, theatrical or music production, and often Kentridge’s planning for these live shows involves maquettes or modelling that can give rise to sculptural ideas. One of these, we might speculate, is the fascinating series of five Polychrome Heads. First shown in a formal gallery setting, and as a full edition of five sculptures, at the Marian Goodman Gallery in London in 2015, the idea for the works, according to a contemporary review in Black Qube magazine, comes from Kentridge’s staging of Alban Berg’s opera Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in the same year: “(the) painted bronze heads…originated through research for Kentridge’s production of Alban Berg’s opera ‘Lulu’. He placed cardboard cylinders over the actors’ heads, painting them with rudimentary features and creating simple masks that served as devices halfway between them and the drawings projected around them. What began as a formal investigation into how little is needed to recognise a head became adroitly bricolaged sets of five ‘Polychrome Heads’”.Far from being straightforward versions of these theatrical masks in the production, Kentridge brings his characteristic intellectual weight to realising the edition of five sculptures. They are cast in bronze, but painted, trompe l’oeil style, to resemble rough wooden stands on which are bricolaged, torn ledger pages, scribbled with obscure English names or Chinese characters. The heads hint at the Weimaresque, certainly Modernist, intellectual zeitgeist, a period in history in which post-colonial anxieties have provided Kentridge with much inspiration.

James Sey


[1] William Kentridge at Marian Goodman Gallery London, in Black Qube Magazine for Art and Design. 30 September 2015. Accessed 6th August 2019.

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