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South African Art Markets in context 
Andries Loots
 Week of 12 November 2000

When  the latest sale results at Sotheby's South Africa sale in Johannesburg ( 6 November ) are scrutinised, one has to wonder why some of these results are disappointing. Even with their recent Cape Town Auction on the 17th October 2000, it was clear that some lots sold for less than at previous
sales. Everybody then waited for the Johannesburg sale  to clarify what was happening. 

Although there were  467 Lots of South African art, which included seven works by Maggie Laubser and 10 by Irma Stern, the buyers were cautious and seemed more conscious of what they were buying and at what price. 

Morning newspaper " Beeld ",  30 October 2000, predicted that record prices were expected. This was proven incorrect, as only two lots fetched record prices compared to results of  previous sales. At this auction a work, by Walter Battiss,  " African Paradise ",  went for R 240 000 ( hammer price ) and a major work by Maud Sumner, " Chess ",  went for R 400 000. The highest price paid for a Maggie Laubser was R 150 000( hammer price ) and the highest price for a work by Irma Stern was R 640 000( hammer price ) 

People attending  the auction were restless and the overall atmosphere was one of uncertainty. There could be numerous reasons  for the disappointing prices for certain lots. The financially inclined buyers would like to believe that the current negative state of our financial markets influenced bidding, but if one talks to the serious dealers in fine art they would like one to believe that the quality of the available lots were not exceptional and also that there were too many lots by the same artist on auction . According to others it seems like everybody is putting their heirlooms  onto the market in the  hope that they would get the same record prices that  works fetched in the past.

Looking back in perspective it is clear that it was a buyers market and that the sellers came second best. Regarding the state of the art markets abroad, it seems that the same is happening globally.  Although a rare work by Picasso went for a new record price of R 368 milion at Christie's recent sale at the Rockefeller Centre in the USA,  the overall feeling there was also of extreme caution and only 42% of all lots on offer were sold. 

It seems that works of exceptional quality are fetching higher prices than ever but for the rest it seems like the buyers are far more selective.        


Lot 463 I. Stern
  R640 000
 R500 000-700 000)

Lot 490 M. Sumner
  R400 000
 R120 000-150 000)

Lot 505 W. Battiss 
  R240 000
 R90 000-120 000)

Lot 548 A. Preller
 R140 000
 R70 000-90 000)