South African art investment boom

An artwork by South African artist Irma Stern – Children Reading the Koran – recently set a new record of R22.3 million for the most expensive artwork sold at an African auction.

This Strauss & Co auction focused on South African modern and contemporary art – a genre of art that is performing “extremely well worldwide”, according to chairperson Frank Kilbourn.

Other South African artists sold at the auction, including Jacob Hendrik Pierneef and Vladimir Tretchikoff, also did well.

Strauss & Co sold 89 of the 110 lots that were on auction, which equated to 94% of the total value presented.

The auction house also sold every Pierneef it had on auction that day, Kilbourn said on The Money Show.

He said there is a strong demand for Pierneef’s work which, coupled with the Stern painting’s success, made for the most robust bidding the auction house has seen since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It speaks to the inherent strength and quality of the South African art scene,” he said. “If you put up high-quality work, there is still strong demand in South Africa and internationally.”

One contributing factor to Strauss & Co’s recent success is their online auctions, which have attracted a younger age group and more international bids.

Irma Stern’s “Children Reading the Koran” recently sold for R22.3 million. SOURCE: Facebook/Strauss & Co

This surge in demand for South African art could prove promising for local investors looking to enter the market.

While it is possible to turn a profit through art, it is not as simple as buying and selling beautiful artworks – investing in art comes down to three important factors that must be considered when looking to invest:

  1. Timing
  2. Rarity
  3. Demand

For example, Kilbourn said Stern’s artwork that set the new record is a one-of-a-kind piece she painted in 1939 during a visit to Zanzibar.

“Her visit to Zanzibar is generally recognised as one of the most important periods in her artistic life, so it was from a very good period,” he said.

“It’s a very evocative painting, really good size and in fantastic condition, so I think it merited the attention that it got.”

These factors help to explain why some artworks may be worth more than others, despite having been created by the same artist, in the same period and with the same medium.


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