7th Jun, 2023 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

Lot 26
Lot 26 - Walter Battiss (South Africa 1906-1982)


Walter Battiss (South Africa 1906-1982)
Two Robed Figures

oil on canvas

Signature details: signed bottom left

Sold for R102,938
Estimated at R120,000 - R180,000


oil on canvas

Signature details: signed bottom left


26 x 31 cm ; framed size: 42 x 47 x 4.5 cm


Private collection, Cape Town.


Walter Battiss’ biographer, Murray Schoonraad notes that in 1967 the artist ‘discovered’ Greece and that, “this introduced one of the most fruitful periods of his art”.[1]

Widely known as a ‘man of Africa’, early in his career Battiss had rejected the prevailing tendency among South African artists to imitate European trends. He instead looked to his local environment. The artist had come into contact with Rock art as a young boy between 1917 and 1920 when he saw –and was awed – by engraved petroglyphs in Koffiefontein. Later in 1933 he saw, for the first time, rock paintings on a farm at Malopodraai in the Free State. These early encounters sparked a deep interest in Rock art and it became a lifelong area of study for Battiss. From his African environment he learnt to eliminate, simplify, reduce and transform three-dimensional reality into flat surfaces, developing his own style ­– firmly rooted in his studies of his local environment and the sun-drenched colours of Africa.

While deeply rooted in Africa, Battiss had on many occasions also travelled to Europe. In his 60s, the artist paid the first of many visits to Greece and this was to become an important stimulus in his later career. He had developed his aesthetic language in his local environment but as a mature artist, secure in his unique style, art historian Marion Arnold notes that Battiss had come “to terms with his Western heritage and responded to Greece, which had shaped the traditions of Western art. From 1967 onwards, he was to introduce classical and European motifs into his paintings and to deepen and extend the content of his art”[2]

Battiss found a peace in Greece. He developed a deep appreciation for the mythology of Hellenic history, and classical figures – such as the upright figures in Two robed figures – feature prominently in his paintings. Clothed in loose fitting, draped garments characteristic of ancient Greece, the figures are sketched in solid black brushstrokes layered upon a subtle pink impasto below. Behind them a third, swimming figure is painted in a deep plum silhouette, implying a sense of depth to the flat surface. The vibrant dabs of turquoise, with circular patterns scratched into the thick paint – a technique so often employed by Battiss – suggest the figures are standing on the shore line as the ocean laps at their feet. Set against a sky ablaze with brilliant orange, red and yellow, this is an exceptional and vibrant work by Battiss at an important point of his career.

Sarah Sinisi

[1] Schoodraad, M. (1976). Walter Battiss. Cape Town & Johannesburg: C. Struik Publishers, p.20.

[2] Arnold, M. (1985). Confronting Paintings. In K Skawran & M Macnamara (Ed). Battiss (pp.55-74). Craighall: AD. Donker, p.67.

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Auction: 20th Century & Contemporary Art, 7th Jun, 2023


Aspire Art will impress collectors with this focused, boutique-style auction in Johannesburg. A feature of the carefully compiled collection is a strong focus on contemporary African artists. Collectors of contemporary works from Africa will be spoilt for choice with works by Thierry Oussou (Benin), Richard Mudariki (Zimbabwe) and Banele Khoza (Swaziland). Local contemporary favourites include Nandipha  Mntambo, Cinga Samson and Gerhard Marx amongst others. Contemporary photographers are also well represented with works by Aida Muluneh (Ethiopia), Kudzanai Chiurai (Zimbabwe) and South African international superstar, Zanele Muholi, while important historical images are included with works of Winnie Mandela by Alf Kumalo and a portfolio of twelve works – chronicling the hardships of apartheid – from Ernest Cole’s seminal House of Bondage (1967).

A highlight of the sale is South African modernist Alexis Preller’s, Adam (1972) – a recently discovered, never before seen, work forming part of Preller’s series of Adamic-themed works from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Other significant modern pieces include a unique terrazzo sculpture by Edoardo Villa, still lifes by Maggie Laubser and works by Cecil Skotnes, Walter Battiss and J.H Pierneef. 

The sale concludes with a special section of  William Kentridge editioned prints led by the impressive Blue Head (1993 – 1998).



Viewing will be open from  Friday 2 to Wednesday 7 June 8:30 to 16:30 and Saturday 3 June from 10:00 to 14:00.

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