16th Nov, 2023 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 15
Lot 15 - John Koenakeefe Mohl (South Africa 1903-1985)


John Koenakeefe Mohl (South Africa 1903-1985)
September in Bechuanaland S.A

oil on board

Artwork date: 1955
Signature details: signed and dated bottom left; inscribed with the artist's name, title and 'B. P. (Bechuanaland Protectorate) S.A' on the reverse

Sold for R137,250
Estimated at R50,000 - R60,000


oil on board

Artwork date: 1955
Signature details: signed and dated bottom left; inscribed with the artist's name, title and 'B. P. (Bechuanaland Protectorate) S.A' on the reverse


44 x 54 cm; framed size: 45 x 55.5 x 3 cm


Private collection, Johannesburg.


A respected teacher and mentor within his community, John Koenakeefe Mohl’s delicate and exquisitely painted landscapes challenged the status quo of what was ‘expected’ from black artists at the time.

Mohl (simplified from his Tswana surname Motlhakangna) was formally trained at the Kunst-Akademie in Dusseldorf. After his studies in Germany, the artist returned to South Africa and started teaching art from his home in Sophiatown. His paintings incorporated the knowledge and classic techniques acquired during his studies abroad and were thematically inspired by his own experiences of the vibrancy and difficulties of life in southern Africa. Mohl’s social realism did not depict the ‘poverty and suffering’ in that period but rather conveyed the landscapes and people of the places where he lived and travelled in South Africa. In this way, his work became a documentation of life and the many rural areas he visited, beautifully depicted in the presented collection of paintings; To and from the River in Basotholand, painted in 1966 (LOT 13) and the exquisite early works Baa – Serowe B.P (To Serowe) from 1956 (LOT 14) and September in Bechuanaland S.A. dated 1955 (LOT 15).

A pioneer of Black Modernism in South Africa, the artist was one of only a few painting landscapes at the time. He was also one of the first black artists to be involved in art education and training, running art classes from his home which was referred to as the ‘White Studio’. Students between the ages of 12 and 30 years of all races attended the art classes in his house in Annadale Street where he taught a variety of skills including painting, drawing, sculpture and flower arrangement.

In the late 1950s, he established the Apollo Art Gallery in Johannesburg, but as he was prevented from operating a business at that time; it was under the name of a Belgian man, Frank van Melten. When Sophiatown was demolished, Mohl moved to Soweto. There he started teaching and in the mid-1970s exhibited his artworks in his garden and sold them to community members and tourists.

His artistic legacy is now celebrated in the field of art history and education. Notably, artist Helen Sibidi had, between 1970 and 1973, taken private painting lessons from Mohl as did many others. After his passing in 1985, John Koenakeefe Mohl was posthumously awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, a South African honour granted by the President of the country for achievements within the arts, culture, journalism, music and sports.

Carina Jansen


The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, the BHP Billiton Collection, Johannesburg; Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg; MTN Art Institute, Sandton; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; South African Reserve Bank, Pretoria and the UNISA Art Gallery, Pretoria.

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