29th Sep, 2021 19:00

Modern & Contemporary Art

Lot 25
Lot 25 - Walter Whall Battiss (South Africa 1906-1982)


Walter Whall Battiss (South Africa 1906-1982)
Limpopo Rocks

oil on canvas

Signature details: signed top left; inscribed with the title on the reverse

Sold for R136,560
Estimated at R100,000 - R150,000


oil on canvas

Signature details: signed top left; inscribed with the title on the reverse


29 x 39 cm; framed size: 45.5 x 55.5 x 2 cm

Private collection, Cape Town.


One only has to refer to the publication Walter Battiss: ‘I Invented myself’ The Jack M. Ginsberg Collection (2016)[1] to see the significance of this early oil painting by Walter Battiss. One of the reasons I chose to place the more than 700 works by Battiss from the Ginsberg Collection in chronological order across five major periods, was to gain insight into patterns that would otherwise be missed if the works were simply ordered thematically, which was the only way curators had attempted to approach Battiss’ oeuvre in past retrospective exhibitions.

One advantage of the chronological placement of Battiss’ works is that it becomes immediately obvious that, until the beginning of the 1960s, oil paintings are extremely rare in his oeuvre. If one takes the works in the Jack Ginsberg Collection as a yardstick, there are only six oils from a total of 118 works, which cover the period from 1916 to 1959. The explanation for the small number of oil paintings is very simple – a lack of money. Battiss could buy many sketchbooks, pens, pencils and watercolour sets for the price of the oil paints and canvas required to make a single painting. Like any other artist who was still emerging within the consciousness and minds of South African art collectors during the 1940s and 1950s, his time as an artist was better spent creating watercolours, drawings and prints that were far more affordable for young collectors with limited budgets.

This rare example of Battiss’s early foray into painting in oil is a jewel, encapsulating all his finest qualities as an artist, which included his profound sense of composition as well as his exquisite use of colour. This work also embodies his great love for the South African bushveld, which is best recorded
in a short synopsis written by the artist himself, to accompany his portfolio of colour woodcuts and lithographs titled Fragments of Africa (1951).[2] Battiss wrote: “When I came down from the mountain of initiation I was articulate and free. For I had conversed with the white rocks and the lilac trees, the coucal and the rhebuck. I had conversed too with the ancient men of Africa who spoke to me through their picture writing on the walls of their crumbling rock-shelters ...

All this was my peculiar discovery but I had no desire to paint an anecdote about them but rather to make pictures of them in such a way that I exposed the happy change they had worked within me. Yes, I made and want to make pictures which are a colour language of the haphazard experiences of my African existence.

These pictures I call fragments of Africa but they are also fragments of myself.”

Warren Siebrits

[1] Siebrits, W. (2016). Walter Battiss: ‘I invented myself ’ Works from the Jack Ginsberg Collection. Johannesburg: Ampersand
[2] Battiss, W. (1951). Fragments of Africa. Pretoria: Red Fawn Press, n.p.

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Auction: Modern & Contemporary Art, 29th Sep, 2021

Aspire Art Auctions brings a significant and insightfully compiled selection of top-quality modern and contemporary art to auction in Cape Town. The sale stars exceptional works by many of South Africa’s big signatures, including, William Kentridge, Robert Hodgins, Penny Siopis, Edoardo Villa, Sydney Kumalo and J.H Pierneef, amongst others. Also featured is an exciting collection of contemporary artists from elsewhere in Africa – Patrick Bongoy and Zemba Luzamba from the Congo, Moustapha Baïdi Oumarou from Cameroon and Gerald Chukwuma from Nigeria.

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