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08 May 2009 07:32
The “finest art auction on South African soil” took place in Johannesburg on Thursday night, when slain mining magnate Brett Kebble’s privately owned collection went under the hammer to break world records.
Auctioneer Graham Britz described the swanky event as a “watershed sale”, starting the bidding of 133 works off with the words, “may the best man win”.
This was after he took pains to assure guests, dressed in bow ties and evening gowns, that Kebble’s art was “clean”.
“There has been a lot of press about this man ... good and bad.
But this is about art,” said Britz.
“This is the finest auction that has happened on South African soil.”
The posh Summer Place venue—with its chandeliers and drapes—was overflowing with at least 800 bidders and a second room had to be made available to accommodate more guests.
Several international buyers bid by phone.
The Irma Stern paintings attracted much attention, but her Woman Sewing Karos, estimated to be worth between R5-million and R7-million, left Britz looking disappointed when it fetched R4,5-million.
“Don’t just sit and look at me, you’re here to bid, ladies and gentlemen!,” he exclaimed.
Earlier, another Irma Stern, Young Girl with Plait, was sold for R275 000, while it had been estimated to fetch at R150 000.
Britz said that Kebble had bought this painting in 1992 after he had concluded his first major business deal.
“His wife told me he hung it above the fireplace, and he sat back and said: ‘This is our first Irma Stern’.”
Probably the highlight of the night was the sale of Vladimir Tretchikoff’s Lost Orchid, which had been valued at about R1,2-million, but eventually sold for R2,9-million.
Britz tried his best to convince one of the bidders to bid R3-million.
“Money can always be made!,” he told the bidder, who just shook his head.
An oil on canvas by Jan Ernst Abraham Volschenk, The Valley of the Kaffirkuils near Riversdale, caused a stir for more than one reason.
Initially, Britz—who admitted to “butterflies in his stomach” at the start of the auction—believed that the painting had been sold for R650 000.
“It’s a new world record for JEA Volschenk,” he said.
But his excitement was short-lived when the bidder pointed out that he had bid R600 000 and not R650 000, and the bidding process had to be re-run.
It then sold for R600 000.
“It’s still, ladies and gentleman, a world record for Volschenk!” a relieved Britz declared.
Other works on auction included the artists Maggie Loubser, JF Pierneef, William Kentridge, George Pemba, Walter Battiss and Thomas Bowler, paintings which Britz said proved Kebble’s excellent eye for a good investment.
“He did pretty well; he did exceptionally well,” said Britz, referring to Kebble’s choice in artwork.
“His greatest returns was on art.”
It is estimated that Kebble, at the time of his death, owed mining house JCI R100-million and the SA Revenue Service R180-million.
Kebble was shot dead in Johannesburg in September 2005. Convicted drug trafficker Glen Agliotti was arrested for his death, which Agliotti claimed was an “assisted suicide”. - Sapa
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