15th Mar, 2023 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 13
Lot 13 - George Pemba (South Africa 1912-2001)


George Pemba (South Africa 1912-2001)
The Poet

oil on canvas board

Artwork date: 1970
Signature details: signed and dated lower right; inscribed with the title on the reverse.

Sold for R443,820
Estimated at R350,000 - R500,000


oil on canvas board

Artwork date: 1970
Signature details: signed and dated lower right; inscribed with the title on the reverse.


59 x 48.5 cm; framed size:  91 x 80 x 1 cm


Private collection, Gqeberha.


This painting of a man in traditional dress has the title, The Poet inscribed on the reverse and is likely a portrait of Samuel Krune Mqhayi (1875-1945). Widely recognised as the father of Xhosa poetry Mqhayi wrote numerous books of poetry and prose and is most known and celebrated for his authorship of several stanzas to Nkosi Sikelel' I-Afrika (God Bless Africa) which was originally composed by Enoch Sontonga in 1927.

George Pemba met Mqhayi sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s and the poet made a great impression on him. The artist often visited Mqhayi at his home near King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape. The two became firm friends and in 1941 Pemba completed a portrait of Mqhayi. The work was displayed in the gallery at what is now the University of Fort Hare (originally the South African Native College) and depicted Mqhayi in traditional Xhosa dress – as in The Poet painted nearly 20 years later in 1970.

Interestingly, Pemba painted a portrait of another prominent Xhosa intellectual in the 1970s, completing The Rev. John Knox Bokwe (late) in 1978[1]. Bokwe (1855-1922) was a religious leader, educator, journalist, celebrated hymn writer and central figure in the foundation of the University of Fort Hare in 1916. Pemba himself was also a notable writer and penned at least two staged plays; The Story of Nonquase and Ntsikana, the Xhosa Prophet (1968). He was deeply interested in Xhosa history, mythology and literature and portraits of renowned individuals such as Mqhayi and Bokwe attest to his passion and the high regard he had for these early Xhosa literary figures.

Text by Sarah Sinisi

[1] The Rev. John Knox Bokwe (late) (1978) was sold by Aspire Art on the sale Art, Life and Love: The Collection of Nwabisa Xayiya on 31 October 2021 for R694 180.


The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, the Cory Library for Historical Research, Rhodes University, Grahamstown; the De Beers Centenary Art Gallery, Alice; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg and The World Bank Collection, Washington, D.C.

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Auction: 20th Century & Contemporary Art, 15th Mar, 2023


Kickstarting the 2023 program Aspire Art are delighted to present their first Live sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art in March. The sale has become a highly anticipated event in the Cape Town auction calendar, showcasing and recognising works by truly exceptional artists from Southern Africa.

Contemporary highlights include seminal works by William Kentridge, Robert Hodgins, Sue Williamson, Johannes Phokela, Zander Blom, Athi-Patra Ruga, Dan Halter and Georgina Gratrix amongst others. International superstars include Pascale Marthine Tayou and Francisco Vidal.  Photographic works feature prominently as a special section and include limited editioned prints by celebrated documentary photographers Alf Kumalo and David Goldblatt alongside incredible photographic works by artists like Mary Sibande, Ayana Jackson, Candice Breitz and the award-winning Mikhael Subotzky.

Leading the sale is a group of important and rare works by South African modern masters, most significantly a selection of expressive drawings by Dumile Feni and paintings by social realist George Pemba. The modern collection is complimented by a landscape painted by J.H. Pierneef and a beautifully rendered gouache by Irma Stern from 1951.


Preview: 10 to15 March

Mon-Fri: 8.30-4.30, Saturday: 10-2 or by appointment


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