15th Mar, 2023 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 16
Lot 16 - Dumile Feni (South Africa 1939-1991)


Dumile Feni (South Africa 1939-1991)
Ecstatic Dance

charcoal on paper

Artwork date: 1965
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right
Exhibited: Gallery 101, Johannesburg, 'Dumile Feni', January 1966.
Literature: De Jager, E. J., (1973). ‘Contemporary African Art in South Africa’, Cape Town: Struik, illustrated on p.28.;'Optima', (1987). Johannesburg: Anglo American, De Beers & Charter Consolidated Groups, illustrated on p.26.
Location: Cape Town

Sold for R318,640
Estimated at R300,000 - R500,000


charcoal on paper

Artwork date: 1965
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right
Exhibited: Gallery 101, Johannesburg, 'Dumile Feni', January 1966.
Literature: De Jager, E. J., (1973). ‘Contemporary African Art in South Africa’, Cape Town: Struik, illustrated on p.28.;'Optima', (1987). Johannesburg: Anglo American, De Beers & Charter Consolidated Groups, illustrated on p.26.
Location: Cape Town


75 x 52.5 cm; framed size: 97.5 x 74 x 3.5 cm


Private collection, Cape Town.

Gallery 101, Johannesburg.


In 1966, the Haenggi’s Gallery 101 in Johannesburg, presented Dumile Feni’s first solo exhibition. This exhibition would be a pivotal moment for the young, zealous artist and his work – forever cementing his name in the canon of South African Black Modernism.

Feni’s unflinching and expressive drawings on the show made an immediate and indelible impression on the Johannesburg art world at the time. The exhibition also received rave reviews in the press nationally.

This emotionally charged and visually dramatic drawing of two female figures, dancing, with small children dangling from them, was one of the key works exhibited in this exhibition. The owner, who bought the work at the time fondly recalls:

“His work has interested and haunted me since the 1960s, when I was living in Johannesburg and I went to his big exhibition, the first of his in that city, way back in the 1960s, at the Haenggi gallery. I was particularly struck by one of his drawings and I proceeded to buy it.

I discussed the drawing for some time with Dumile at the Johannesburg exhibition. He explained that the women were dancing joyfully at the fact that they had become mothers, and were celebrating the role of motherhood.”[1]

The image of ‘the mother and child’ not only explores an established and omnipresent iconographic convention in (Western) art history but is also most prevalent in Feni’s oeuvre, like the large-scale Mother and Baby (1969) that Aspire sold for R850,000.00 in 2022. Other works include Mother and Child (1966), the drawing (sold for R 626 589 in 2020) for which Feni received the Merit Award in the South African Breweries Art Prize in 1966, and the much later Mother and Child (1985) drawing that sold for R546,929 in 2019.

The continuous return to the theme was very personal for him. Growing up in a Christian Evangelist home, he lost his mother very young and was brought up by his older sister, Kulie. While many of Feni’s earlier pieces depicted social despair, “the figure of the maternal in Dumile’s work was also one of possibility and that is why the invocation of the maternal also suggested his deep reverence for all mothers and women folk”[2], writes art critic Athi Joja.

A powerful and evocative drawing, with intensive mark-making, this particular ‘mother and child’ piece hints at the idea of ecstatic joy, love, familial bonding and, perhaps, happiness during times of adversity and hardship.

Shortly after the exhibition, the drawing was photographed for inclusion in a seminal article on A New African Art in South African African Art by Walter Battiss, written for Optima in 1967, a magazine edited by Charles Eglinton and published by Anglo American Corporation. Reproductions of this photograph have in recent years circulated on the internet under the erroneous title Harpy. It can only be concluded that the idea for this title arose from the look on the face of the one figure – it is arrestingly distorted, open-mouthed and rather wild.

This drawing is a significant example of Feni’s South African period of works, created between 1960 and 1968 before he left the country in 1968. The artist produced some of his most recognisable and powerful images during this period.

Text by Marelize van Zyl

  1. Dumile Feni 1966. Photo by Moosa Bedsha.
  2. Mother and Child, 1985.
  3. Mother and Baby, 1969.

[1] Email correspondence with Marelize van Zyl, 17 November 2022

[2] Joja, A.M. (2019). Dumile Feni. Mother and Child, in Modern and Contemporary Art (auction catalogue), 1 September 2019.


The artist is represented in numerous local collections, notably, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Johannesburg Art Gallery; De Beers Centenary Art Gallery, Alice; Durban Art Gallery and the Ann Bryant Art Gallery, East London.

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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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