14th Sep, 2022 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

Lot 62
Lot 62 - Julian Motau (South Africa 1948-1968)


Julian Motau (South Africa 1948-1968)

oil on board

Artwork date: 1966
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right, accompanied by framed article by Die Beeld newspaper, March 1968

Sold for R216,220
Estimated at R200,000 - R300,000


oil on board

Artwork date: 1966
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right, accompanied by framed article by Die Beeld newspaper, March 1968


50 x 40 cm; framed size: 71 x 61 x 3.5 cm; framed article size: 44 x 34 x 1.5 cm


Private collection, Johannesburg.


On the night of the 17th February 1968, the life of the young and phenomenally talented Julian Motau came to a sudden and violent end on the streets of Alexandra Township. His unexpected death elicited an immediate emotional reaction in Johannesburg’s art community, where he had earlier found succour and encouragement from the likes of the artist Judith Mason and the gallerist Linda Givon. The loss of this nascent star-artist was also lamented in the press. Writing in the Afrikaans newspaper Die Beeld on 10 March, after the opening of Motau’s subsequent memorial exhibition in Pretoria, Hennie Pretorius expressed his sadness that “this man had great potential. Even his first works showed that he was going to be one of South Africa’s greatest graphic artists … also his sculptural work, which he had just started, held great promise” [author’s translation].

Apparently struck by a stray bullet from cross-fire between warring gangs in Alexandra, Motau epitomises the urbanized black youth who lost and were denied so much during the repressive era of ‘grand’ apartheid of the 1960s and subsequent decades. His early death and truncated artistic career have endowed him with something of the status of a semi-martyr in the history of emergent art in South Africa’s urban townships. Motau was killed a mere week before his first solo exhibition was due to open. In the wake of the shock of his death, it was decided to defer and recast it as a Memorial Exhibition at the Pretoria gallery of the SA Association of Arts. Contributions to the display and the opening event were made by his influential mentors Dumile Feni and Ezrom Legae. Consisting of 90 works, the exhibition was sold out on the opening night.

Since the emergence of ‘Resistance art’ in South Africa in the late 1970s and the 1980s, Motau’s work has been, as art critic Ivor Powell observed, retrospectively “hailed as marking a new politicisation of township art”. However, while Powell conceded that “there is some truth to this”, he remained of the opinion that Motau’s work “remains too unruly and too unformed to constitute much more than an interesting beginning, tragically curtailed”.[i]

Motau was largely self-taught, but the influence of the brief mentorship with Feni, Legae and Mason is discernable in his highly charged charcoal and graphic works. There are relatively few surviving paintings by him and of them, Prisoner (1966), is both a rare and key example. Painted when Motau was only eighteen, its subject encapsulates the black experience under apartheid. In its simplicity and directness it prefigured much of what was to become part of the visual rhetoric of graphic ‘struggle art’ in subsequent decades. The painting’s compelling nature drew much attention when it was exhibited on Motau’s memorial exhibition in 1968, fuelling Press speculation that Motau had somehow by way of premonition painted this ‘strange picture’ of the mysterious gunman who was to subsequently take his life.

Hayden Proud

[i] Ivor Powell. 2007. Revisions: Expanding the Narrative of South African Art

online reference: http://revisions.co.za/biographies/julian-motau/#.YvtXz3ZBxPY

Accompanied by a framed article titled This strange picture may be... Portrait of a Killer - by his Victim! from Die Beeld newspaper, 10 March 1968 and Motau: 'loss to the Black nation' from an unspecified newspaper, 4 March 1968.


The artist is represented in numerous local collections, notably, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town.; De Beers Centenary Art Gallery, University of Fort Hare and the University of South Africa, Pretoria.

You can place an absentee bid through our website - please sign in to your account on our website to proceed.

In the My Account tab you can also enter telephone bids, or email bids@aspireart.net to log telephone/absentee bids.

Join us on the day of the auction to follow and bid in real-time.

The auction will be live-streamed with an audio-visual feed.

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.

View all lots in this sale

Images *

Drag and drop .jpg images here to upload, or click here to select images.





While we endeavour to assist our Clients as much as possible, we require artwork(s) to be delivered and/or collected from our premises by the Client. In instances where a Client is unable to deliver or collect artwork(s), Aspire staff is available to assist in this process by outsourcing the services to one of our preferred Service Providers. The cost for this will be for the Client’s account, with an additional Handling Fee of 15% charged on top of the Service Provider’s invoice.

Aspire Art provides inter-company transfer services for its Clients between Johannesburg and Cape Town branches. These are based on the size of the artwork(s), and charged as follows:

Small (≤60x90x10 cm): R480

Medium (≤90x120x15 cm): R960

Large (≤120x150x20 cm): R1,440

Over-size: Special quote


Should artwork(s) be collected or delivered to/from Clients by Aspire Art directly, the following charges will apply:

Collection/delivery ≤20km: R400

Collection/delivery 20km>R800≤50km

Collection/delivery >50km: Special quote



A flat fee of R100 will be added to the invoice for packaging of unframed works on paper.


International Collectors Shipping Package

For collectors based outside South Africa who purchase regularly from Aspire Art’s auctions in South Africa, it does not make sense to ship artworks individually or per auction and pay shipping every time you buy another work. Consequently, we have developed a special collectors’ shipping package to assist in reducing shipping costs and the constant demands of logistics arrangements.

For buyers from outside South Africa, we will keep the artworks you have purchased in storage during the year and then ship all the works you have acquired during the year together, so the shipping costs are reduced. At the end of the annual period, we will source various quotes to get you the best price, and ship all your artworks to your desired address at once.

Aspire Art will arrange suitable storage during, and cost-effective shipping at the end, of the annual period.



Collections are by appointment, with 24-hours’ notice

Clients are requested to contact the relevant office and inform Aspire Art of which artwork(s) they would like to collect, and allow a 24-hour window for Aspire Art’s logistics department to retrieve the artwork(s) and prepare them for collection.


Handling Fee

Aspire Art charges a 15% Handling Fee on all Logistics, Framing, Restoration and Conservation arranged by Aspire.