'Rising value' is the name of the game at Bonhams' South African art sale

Bonhams' next sale of South African art on October 27 in London will provide a clear guide as to which black South African artists are the most collectable.

Top names which have seen significant growth in value include Gerard Sekoto (whose 'Youth with downcast eyes' is pictured, top right), George Pemba, Gladys Mgudlandlu, Ephraim Ngatane, John Koenaakeefe Mohl, Welcome Koboka, Lucas Sitole, Dumile Feni-Mhlaba, Tony Nkotsi.

"I certainly feel that this area of the market has the most potential for growth," said Hannah O'Leary, a specialist in Bonhams South African Art Department.

"While the South African market is strong, with the top prices being paid for major works by the most established artists Irma Stern and J.H. Pierneef, the black artists are closing in on what was once a huge gulf in prices between the best white and black artists."

Bonhams sold a Pierneef painting, 'The Baobab Tree', in September 2008 for £826,400 - the current World Record price for a South African artwork - and expect to exceed this figure with a Stern, 'The Bahora Girl', in the October auction.

Gerard Sekoto's (South African, 1913-1993) Women in the Fields

"In the year 2000, several pre-exile Sekotos came to auction, fetching under £10,000 each. Today you would not expect to pay less than £100,000," said O'Leary.

"In fact, last year a Sekoto sold for £330,000 - I would love to think that a Sekoto may one day hold the record for the most expensive South African painting."

Sekoto and Pemba were certainly the pioneers of black art in South Africa, paving the way for the artists that followed. They mark the beginnings of an urbanised black visual arts culture, as distinct from one based on rural traditions and origins.

Often referred to as "Township art", these artists were often self-taught and could not always afford expensive art materials, frequently using brown paper and newsprint with poster paints in place of canvas and oil paint in their early careers.

While their white contemporaries were travelling to Europe to study painting at the most prestigious art schools and under the greatest living artists of their day, these black artists were denied an art education on their own doorstep.

Ephraim Mojalefa Ngatane's (1938-1971) Woman feeding cats

In 1940, Sekoto was famously denied entry to the Johannesburg Art Gallery to see his own painting on exhibition - the first painting by a black artist to be purchased by a museum - so he took a job as a cleaner in order to see it hanging.

What is really exciting about the black art movement is the depiction of life in the townships under Apartheid - these artists were documenting the background of suppression and poor living conditions.

From 1976, following the Soweto uprising, when riots and unrest started in townships all over the country, we see the emergence of "Resistance Art", where these artists fought Apartheid with their paintbrushes in place of weapons.

Dumile Feni, for example, was known as the Goya of the townships! Thankfully today these works are considered of utmost national importance, and there is a movement to repatriate as many early works as possible.

Watch this space for more news on Bonhams' South African art sale.


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