30th Nov, 2022 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 65
Lot 65 - Deborah Bell (South Africa 1957-)


Deborah Bell (South Africa 1957-)
Sentinel III


Artwork date: 2004, cast in 2010
Signature details: signed, dated, numbered 5/5 and inscribed 'FUSO FONDERIA RENZO VINALI' on the base
Literature: Stein, P. (2004). 'Deborah Bell'. Johannesburg: David Krut Publishing, clay figure illustrated in colour on p.79.

Estimated at R750,000 - R1,000,000



Artwork date: 2004, cast in 2010
Signature details: signed, dated, numbered 5/5 and inscribed 'FUSO FONDERIA RENZO VINALI' on the base
Literature: Stein, P. (2004). 'Deborah Bell'. Johannesburg: David Krut Publishing, clay figure illustrated in colour on p.79.


253 x 34 x 33 cm including base


Private collection, Cape Town.

Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.


Sentinel III and Sentinel IX form part of Deborah Bell’s original Sentinel project where the artist carved and moulded nine graceful, elongated figures from solid slabs of clay in 2003. Bell explains that the works “evolved from working with pillars of hard extruded clay that came out of the pugmill at a brick factory. Working with this clay on these columnar shapes suggested a new way of working. I began to carve, and carve again, a way of both revealing and creating, which was different to the slow circular building up through coiling that I had used in my earlier clay work. The material taught my hands what to do”.[1]

While creating these works, the artist drew upon a multitude of historical visual references; Gothic imagery of saints, prophets and kings, ancient hermae and African veranda posts. Indeed, Bell’s Sentinels attest to her deep familiarity with African and other sculptural traditions, bringing to mind works of quite different conventions, from the statues of the kings of Judah that once adorned the medieval Cathedral of Notre-Dame (but are now at the Musée Cluny in France) to the monumental soapstone carvings of birds from the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.

With eyes closed, these sculptures radiate a calm stillness, like self-contained, sentient beings from another realm. The artist explains that in the process of working, they became guardians or sentinels but, in thinking of the works, further reflects that she likes “the idea of gods or angels who hold this world in place, and protect us, so that we can experience grand adventures.”[2]

In 2019, Everard Read London approached Deborah Bell about revisiting her 2003 Sentinels. All the editions of the original sculptures had been sold. This prompted Bell to explore the guardian figures again, in 2020 creating eight Sentinels which the artist now views as quite different from the original works.

Sarah Sinisi

[1] Acclaimed South African Sculpture Deborah Bell Revisits Classic Works (2020). Available at: https://www.everard-read-capetown.co.za/news/75/ (Accessed: 26 October 2022).

[2] Stein, P. (2004). Deborah Bell. Johannesburg: David Krut Publishing. p.77.


The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, Hara Museum, Tokyo.; Museum of Modern Art, New York.; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town and the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.

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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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