30th Nov, 2022 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 42
Lot 42 - Dumile Feni (South Africa 1939-1991)


Dumile Feni (South Africa 1939-1991)
Man Drinking

charcoal and conté on paper

Artwork date: 1967
Exhibited: Johans Borman Fine Art, Cape Town, 'Dumile Feni: 1968 Drawings', April 2009; Johannesburg Art Gallery, Dumile Feni Retrospective Exhibition, 31 January to 19 April 2005.
Literature: Dube, P. M. (2006). 'Dumile Feni Retrospective. Johannesburg: Johannesburg Art Gallery', illustrated on p. 68.


charcoal and conté on paper

Artwork date: 1967
Exhibited: Johans Borman Fine Art, Cape Town, 'Dumile Feni: 1968 Drawings', April 2009; Johannesburg Art Gallery, Dumile Feni Retrospective Exhibition, 31 January to 19 April 2005.
Literature: Dube, P. M. (2006). 'Dumile Feni Retrospective. Johannesburg: Johannesburg Art Gallery', illustrated on p. 68.


250.5 x 102 cm; framed size: 268 x 120 x 6 cm


Campbell Smith Collection, Cape Town.

Grosvenor Gallery, London.


Accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Dumile Feni Family Trust.


In 1967, Dumile Feni represented South Africa at the São Paolo Biennale in Brazil with five drawings. He also formed part of the South African pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada and presented solo exhibitions at the then Transvaal Academy and Madame Haenggi’s Gallery 101 in Johannesburg. Not only was this a prosperous time locally and internationally for Feni’s artistic career, but it also marked the start of a period of great personal turmoil in the artist’s life in the lead-up to his decision to leave a politically turbulent South Africa in 1968, to go into self-imposed exile.

Between 1967 and 1968, while waiting to be granted a passport and visa, Feni stayed with artist and teacher Bill Ainslie and his wife Fieke in Johannesburg. During this time, while working alongside Ainslie in the studio, the artist produced several large-scale charcoal drawings. The emotionally charged Man Drinking dates from this period. Later, Ainslie would remark that Dumile did some of his best work during the two years he stayed there.

Curator Steven Sack famously commented that “the master of turbulent imagery was undoubtedly Dumile Feni, who was known as the Goya of the townships. His apocalyptic vision talks directly of personal experience, indicating the extent to which the political and the personal had become inextricably intertwined.”

In this work, Feni ostensibly depicts, with expressive and suggestive marks, a man on a binge. The drawing is minimalist in composition, but not in its style and technique. Some areas of the figure are more detailed than other parts, like its head which is further highlighted with white conté. The contrast between intensely detailed sections and the open spaces heightens the visual tension in this unusual composition. Furthermore, the scale and positioning of the figure on a large paper format, where open space ­– devoid of reference ­– is used for dramatic effect, emphasise the physical and emotional isolation of the figure.

Considering the personal upheavals Feni endured during this time and the circumstances under which this drawing was produced; his forced displacement and eventual exile, while leaving behind his seven-month pregnant partner Florence Dvali, this drawing could be viewed as an intimate, yet blunt self-reflection. Man Drinking also speaks universally of man’s struggles and his destructive methods for a temporary escape.

Works from this important period, like Man Drinking, are significant in Feni’s oeuvre, not only as markers of the artist’s stylistic development during this transitional time, but also of their subjective and emotional content. These drawings are also very rare in South Africa since Feni took the majority of them with him to London when he left.

Marelize van Zyl


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 and the University of Fort Hare, Alice.

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Auction: 20th Century & Contemporary Art, 30th Nov, 2022


The focused sale brings to market 84 highly collectable lots, with the diverse collection showcasing highlights by modern masters including magnificent still-life compositions and a Zanzibari boat scene by Irma Stern, an Alexis Preller abstract and an early JH Pierneef landscape. Also included is a significant collection of celebrated contemporary artists: Mustafa Maluka, David Koloane, Walter Oltmann, Norman Catherine, Willem Boshoff, a rare self-portrait oil by Robert Hodgins as well as a large bronze sculpture by Zanele Muholi, the first of this new body of work to be offered on auction.
The sale features a special selection of artworks by William Kentridge. One of the most celebrated and influential living artists today, his major retrospective exhibition is currently on show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. This is one of the most unique and high-quality Kentridge collections to come to market. Spanning his career and showcasing the many mediums in which he works, the sale features signature charcoal drawings alongside collages, tapestry, prints and sculptures.

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