14th Sep, 2022 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 52
Lot 52 - Robert Hodgins (South Africa 1920-2010)


Robert Hodgins (South Africa 1920-2010)
Big Sulk, Cosy Gossip

oil on canvas

Artwork date: 2002
Signature details: signed, dated and inscribed with the artist's name, the title and medium on the reverse

Sold for R867,156
Estimated at R900,000 - R1,200,000


oil on canvas

Artwork date: 2002
Signature details: signed, dated and inscribed with the artist's name, the title and medium on the reverse


90 x 120 cm; framed size: 93 x 123.5 x 5 cm


Private collection, Johannesburg.


As it happens, the year 2002 in which Big Sulk, Cosy Gossip was painted, saw the publication of both Robert Hodgins’ own book, The Human Race, and Robert Hodgins, the volume commemorating his fifty years as an artist.[1] Besides affirming his stature in the South African art world, both books provide valuable insight into Hodgins’ work and thinking at that time.

In The Human Race, Hodgins identified his invariable subject-matter – and his ambivalent attitude towards it. Citing Sir Walter Raleigh’s doggerel from 1923, “I wish I loved the human race;/ I wish I loved its silly face;” etc., Hodgins concluded “My problem is that more and more/ I like the human race to … draw”! And he filled the book with studies of socialites, executioners, bathers, trapeze artists, office workers and others, all displaying signs of self-absorption and alienation ranging from the comic to the dangerously manic. The style in which these monochrome drawings are done ranges from naturalistic description to graphic tests of the very limits of representation.

In the interviews in Robert Hodgins, the artist discusses what was important to him as a practitioner at that time. For example, in ‘A String of Beads’, an interview that, absurdly, he conducted with himself, Hodgins identifies the transformative power of art in the image of Velazquez, faced with yet another portrait of the unprepossessing Philip IV, conjuring magic from three simple colours; and in a Matisse Still Life of oranges against a dull green wall, he sees a compositional togetherness – “a kind of knittedness” – that he aims for in his own art. In the conversation with artists William Kentridge and Deborah Bell in the same book, Hodgins talks about the excitement of “a thousand atoms of thought and experience and molecules and decisions and references [are] all coming together” each moment he is painting – which was surely his experience in creating Big Sulk, Cosy Gossip at this particular time.

Unlike most figurative artists of his own time or before, who would use their medium to illustrate and interpret their given subject, Hodgins often found his subject – and title – in the process of painting. Starting with some detail of a figure – an outline or a gesture – he would allow the formal elements of colour, shape and line to work together with the “thousand atoms of thought” to create a socialite, an executioner, a ‘Big Sulk’ or whatever reference seemed to express the direction of his thoughts at that time. Each figure is a combination of observed physical features and expressive formal elements that define both the figure and its pictorial context. Hodgins’ figures, such as ‘Big Sulk’ and, elsewhere on the canvas, ‘Cosy Gossip’, obviously relate to his imaginative family of figures but in themselves, in their contexts and in their relationships with one another, each is unique: ‘Big Sulk’ reminds one of Hodgins’ many businessmen, ‘gents’ and office workers, albeit subject to an unusual moment of self-doubt; and ‘Cosy Gossip’ relates in both figures and mood to the painting A Cosy Coven in Suburbia (2002) and other work of this time. But their juxtaposition in this painting, while apparently arbitrary, sets off a dynamic of unanswered questions that is expanded and yet somehow “knitted” together in the gloriously dramatic background setting.

Michael Godby

[1] Robert Hodgins, The Human Race, Johannesburg: Goodman Gallery Editions, 2002; Robert Hodgins, Cape Town: Tafelberg, 2002.


The artist is represented in numerous local collections, notably, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg.; Javett Art Centre, Pretoria.; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town.; UNISA, Pretoria and Wits Art Museum, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

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Auction: 20th Century & Contemporary Art, 14th Sep, 2022


Aspire Art will impress collectors with this focused, boutique-style auction. Including 81 carefully selected lots the sale boasts impressive examples by many of South Africa’s most celebrated artists. A fine selection of William Kentridge works, including two original drawings, Eduardo Villa sculptures, painting by Robert Hodgins and Walter Battiss and a wonderful early Penny Siopis drawing are on offer.

Also featured are two special sections – Black Modernism and Photography. Aspire has firmly cemented itself as a champion of both these collecting segments and collectors will be spoilt for choice with a rare drawing by Dumile Feni as well as works by other modernists including Gerard Sekoto, George Pemba and Lucas Sithole and photographs by David Goldblatt, Mohau Modisakeng and Simphiwe Ndzube amongst others.


The exhibition preview is open to the public.

Viewing is from Friday 9 to Wednesday 14 September.

Weekdays from 09h30 to 16h30, Saturdays from 09h30 to 14h00, and Sundays by appointment.

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