Aspire Art Auctions recently unveiled an early painting by celebrated South African artist, Gerard Sekoto.
Titled “In the Beer Hall” and painted in c1939/40, the work was initially intended for auction in Paris as part of the Modern & Contemporary African Art sale, in collaboration with the French auction house Piasa, in June.
However, after careful consideration and in discussion with the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), “In the Beer Hall” will now remain in the country and be sold by Aspire in August.
Painted before Sekoto left South Africa for France, “In the Beer Hall” shows a scene of patrons inside an informal beer hall; men gathering at the end of the day, the slowly setting sun casting long shadows where they stand or sit together as they enjoy a flask of beer.
Sekoto moved to Sophiatown in 1938, and it is likely he depicted a beer hall in this bustling, cultural hub of Johannesburg.
Born in Mpumalanga in 1913, Gerard Sekoto was one of the country’s many black intelligentsia who were driven into self-imposed exile in the hopes of pursuing a better life and successful career abroad.
Sekoto left South Africa for Paris in 1947, where he lived and worked as an artist until his death in 1993, sadly never returning to South Africa.
While Sekoto gained recognition in Europe, and continued to exhibit in Johannesburg and Cape Town, the artist’s works produced in South Africa from 1938 until he left the country are today considered to be his “golden era” and regarded as the most important.
His first exhibition took place at the Gainsborough Gallery in 1939, and in 1940 the Johannesburg Art Gallery purchased one of his paintings for the gallery’s permanent collection – a momentous occasion as this was the first work by a black artist to enter the collection of any South African museum.
“In the Beer Hall” carries great significance and, having been included in one of the artist’s first exhibitions, may well be one of his earliest oil on canvas works to come to market.
Established in 2000, SAHRA is mandated to protect South Africa’s cultural heritage. In accordance with the National Heritage Resources Act, SAHRA is responsible for the management and promotion of the country’s diverse heritage resources.
In line with this, and in recognition of “In the Beer Hall” as “…of outstanding significance by reason of its close association with South African history (and) culture, its aesthetic qualities, (and) its value in the study of the arts…” SAHRA has ruled that the painting may not be exported from South Africa.
SAHRA’s view is that the painting: “…is of such a degree of national importance that its loss to South Africa would significantly diminish (the) national heritage”.
Sekoto’s portrayals of people in Sophiatown, District Six and Eastwood from the 1930s and ‘40s provide a unique and rare insight into the experiences of his subjects and are as such deemed to be of great importance to the National Estate.
“Handling this exceptional national treasure by the father of black modernism in South Africa is not only a great privilege and responsibility for Aspire, but indeed an honour for which we are perfectly positioned and well-equipped,” comments Ruarc Peffers, Aspire’s MD.
Aspire has achieved great success in its strategic approach to develop appreciation and value for rare and increasingly sought-after artworks by black, largely under-appreciated, artists from the 20th century.
In 2019, Aspire sold another early Sekoto painting, “Lady in Red”, for over R1,1 million in Johannesburg.
The painting “In the Beer Hall” is currently in Johannesburg and can be viewed by appointment. - Bedfordview and Edenvale News