The dynamic transition to online marketing and sales, coupled with a strategic international technology partnership with Invaluable.com and – most importantly – the heartening support from its loyal clients, enabled Strauss & Co to achieve solid turnover in its maiden virtual auction. Held over two days in full compliance with national health regulations, with auctioneers leading the live-streamed sale from studios set up in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the nearly 650-lot sale earned R79 million with a lot sell-through rate of 77.34% and value sell-through rate of 78.61%.
This creditable performance was the outcome of strong demand for lots across Strauss & Co’s catalogue. Every single lot in the Bordeaux-themed wine session was sold, and a single-owner collection of VOC items emerged as one of the highlights from the two sessions devoted to the decorative arts. Established bellwethers at auction JH Pierneef, Irma Stern and Alexis Preller once again proved their durability in difficult times, while Walter Battiss, Peter Clarke, Erik Laubscher, George Pemba and Vladimir Tretchikoff all posted better than expected results, pointing to depth and resilience in the South African art market.
“We are delighted and deeply grateful for the strong results generated in every session of the sale,” says Strauss & Co chairperson Frank Kilbourn. “It is an important endorsement of the value and collectability of South African art, wine and furniture, as well as the technology-driven approach taken by Strauss & Co to bring much-needed liquidity to the secondary art market.
“The sale demonstrated the value of teamwork and innovation at every level in our organisation in dealing with current Covid-19 related challenges. Strauss & Co is happy to announce that we will donate a portion of the net proceeds of the sale to funds and initiatives dedicated to supporting artists in South Africa, many of whom have been severely impacted by the current lockdown provisions.”
Two works by Irma Stern wrote the positive headline for this sale. Offered in the premier evening session, taken by Strauss & Co’s joint managing director Bina Genovese in Cape Town, Stern’s Still Life with Lilies achieved the highest price. This gorgeous confection of hot orange painted in 1947 sold to a telephone bidder for R14.8 million.
Stern’s Zanzibar Arab, a major portrait painted in 1939 at the start of her golden period, sold for R11.4 million, also to a telephone buyer.
Old and new ways of trading converged in this sale, with elite buyers frequently opting for live telephone bidding despite the seamless bid logging offered through Invaluable’s platform. But the rules of engagement were also fluid. Alexis Preller’s Space Angel, a commanding oil and gesso work from 1971, sold to an online buyer who bested one early telephone bidder. The work sold for R5.7 million and rounded off the top three lots traded at this – in many ways – extraordinary sale.
Over 500 bidders from over 20 countries vied for rare and collectable wines in the opening session of the virtual auction, culminating in a White-Glove sale (auction parlance for 100% lot sell-through rate earning a total of R2.12 million.
Strauss & Co’s decorative arts offering included jewellery, silver, furniture and objets d’art from various countries and epochs. A 19th Century black japanned and chinoiserie decorated brass-mounted cabinet-on-stand was sold to an online bidder for R431 984, far above estimate. A 25-lot selection of VOC items assembled by a collector generated consistent interest, with sales often besting estimates. A trio of Arita blue and white VOC dishes, all from the late 17th century, sold to a telephone bidder.
This much-anticipated general sale was originally scheduled to take place live in Cape Town on 30 March, but was postponed due to the health emergency around Covid-19. For buyers and sellers of top-tier decorative arts, the Cape Town sale is one of only two opportunities to buy and sell works from the department overseen by Strauss & Co’s joint managing director Vanessa Phillips.
“The strict terms of the Disaster Management Act necessitated an action-orientated plan by Strauss & Co’s executive team, both to secure the livelihoods of our staff as well as ensure continuity and liquidity for our clients,” says Bina Genovese. “We have a huge responsibility to our sellers, especially during the current health and economic emergency, when the disposal of assets is an immediate necessity, not a luxury. It is our duty as South Africa’s leading auction house to be steadfast and inventive during difficult times so that we can offer our clients an effortless transactional service to secure their livelihoods.”
Strauss & Co will donate a percentage of the profit from its May maiden virtual auction to support artists affected by the regulations to address, prevent and combat the spread of Coronavirus COVID-19. Details will be announced at a later date.