3rd Mar, 2019 12:00

Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art

Lot 23
Lot 23 - Alexis Preller (South Africa 1911-1975-)


Alexis Preller (South Africa 1911-1975-)
Tower - Zimbabwe Ruins

oil, gesso and gold leaf on canvas

Artwork date: 1967
Signature details: signed and dated

Sold for R455,200
Estimated at R400,000 - R600,000


oil, gesso and gold leaf on canvas

Artwork date: 1967
Signature details: signed and dated


71.5 x 61.5 cm

Framed in the original gold-plated frame made by Pelette under the direction of the artist.


Alexis Preller’s works, Silver Constellation and Golden Chariot were completed in 1967, the same year as this rather cryptic work. At first glance, the work seems to be of a golden limpet or shell floating on a field of dark cobalt blue grading into a shadow-like blackness. It also reads, cartographically, as an island surrounded evocatively by deep waters and small islets. On being given its specific title, Tower – Zimbabwe Ruins, the viewer is suddenly able to discern Preller’s intent, a stylised evocation of an aerial view of Great Zimbabwe, the famous archaeological site. At the very centre, amidst a series of raised platforms, stands an enigmatic tower. The massive tower and the imposing walls that embrace the space around it form one of Africa’s most emblematic and permanent structures, constructed as it is from packed stone.

Great Zimbabwe’s location was undoubtedly chosen on account of the gold in the surrounding mountains and river valleys, and which afforded it the opportunity of participating in the gold trade towards the East coast, making it a nexus of expanded trade in the region during the 12th century. Preller’s use of gold as the dominant focus of the work is suggestive of both the importance of gold and the Zimbabwean citadel.Preller and his friend, Norman Eaton, the modernist architect, shared a long fascination with archaic towers, from that of Great Zimbabwe to the spiral towers of the Middle East. Both men built towers on their respective properties: Preller’s in brick at his remote home, Dombeya, in Brits, and Eaton’s packed stone towers on the edge of his property on the Waterkloof Heights in Pretoria.In this painting, Preller’s fugue-like creative process where ideas and images morphed over a lifetime is once again evident: it is as if Preller overlays and compresses his love of the Conus shells from island beaches, towers and mythical places in these contours of gesso-gold.

Karel Nel

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Auction: Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art, 3rd Mar, 2019

Aspire Art Auctions set a new bar for the market in its Autumn 19 Auction in Cape Town, with a South African auction record for its cover lot.

An early work, by international star Marlene Dumas, Love Lost (1973/4) achieved R7 283 200, more than doubling its pre-sale estimate of R3 000 000. Further successful sales included a range of paintings by Alexis Preller from across his career, and new world records for work by Jane Alexander, Simphiwe Ndzube, and Moshekwa Langa. These results further establish Aspire’s growing reputation as the discerning auction house for handling contemporary South African art.  

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