Still life with crocodile signed 'Preller' and dated '49' (upper left) oil on canvas 66 x 76cm (26 x 29 15/16in).
Provenance: Trustfonds van die Hoer Meisieskool.
This work is being offered on behalf of a trust established for the benefit of the Bloemhof Girls High School, Stellenbosch.
Everything about this painting is sharply defined, from the precise geometry of the table and the panels in the background, to the details of the woven rug upon the floor. The scene is orderly, even austere; but its contents are unconventional, to say the least. The most ordinary item in the flood-lit group assembled on the table is the globular glass vase with daisies almost incongruous, because it is so banal.
The crocodile has a totemic role in various African cultures, and carved artefacts such as the one depicted here were regularly offered for sale as curios in the North East regions of South Africa, and especially along the main road into Mozambique. The decorative forms appealed to Preller, who appreciated the consistent stylisation. The conventionalised image was idiomatically African and, as such, a welcome addition to his repertoire.
Another interesting feature of this work is Prellers registration of different levels of reality. From the flat, stylised pattern of the pumpkin, which is integral to the fabric of the cloth, to the mango lying on the table, which like René Magrittes Pipe is not a mango, but a painting of a mango. On the next level of reality is the three-dimensional crocodile, which is real, but not realistic; and it is not a crocodile; it is a wooden simulacrum. The only real object in the picture is the vase of daisies, which, from this perspective, no longer reads as quite so banal as before.
The above extract is taken from the forthcoming monograph on Alexis Preller by Esmé Berman & Karel Nel. This book is due for publication later in 2009.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The above work will only be available for viewing at the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg, RSA. Please contact the South African Art department for further information.