Gerard Sekoto (South African
Lot 204
Gerard Sekoto (South African, 1913-1993) 'Yellow Houses, District Six'
Sold for £602,400 (US$ 998,286) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
Gerard Sekoto (South African, 1913-1993)
'Yellow Houses, District Six'
signed 'G Sekoto' (lower left)
oil on canvas
50.5 x 58cm (19 7/8 x 22 13/16in).

Footnotes

  • LITERATURE:
    B. Lindop, Gerard Sekoto, (Randburg, 1988), illustrated p. 114
    B. Lindop, Sekoto: the art of Gerard Sekoto, (London, 1995), illustrated p.38


    "Although much of the time I would feel scared to enter too deep into the most dangerous seeming hide-outs of District Six, I hovered within arm's length, observing and making sketches in a very acrobatic style. This meant making quick sketches in such a manner that an observer would imagine I was noting down some forgotten names of articles I needed to buy or notes I had to attend to. But shortly I would go to the studio to work upon these sketches on pieces of paper which were reminders to me." (the artist as quoted in B. Lindop, p. 23)


    Yellow Houses, District Six is directly linked to the painting Market Street Scene, Cape Town (sold in these rooms 24 March 2010, lot 33). Both paintings use shadow from an unknown source to lead into the composition, where complementary colour contrasts of yellow, red and blue create atmospheric tension between the figures that occupy the landscape. Light, shadow and colour define and encapsulate the given moment. Sekoto's inherent musicality is subliminal to both works of art. Yellow Houses, District Six is the synthesis of various influences and the triumph of Sekoto's early career from 1939 until this work was painted between 1942 and 1945.

    In a letter written by Sekoto in 1986, he discusses his approach and techniques of capturing outdoor scenes:

    "With most of my subject matter, I took little notes on the spot and went home to work in oil. It was rare that people would pose and even then mostly the models would be unnatural and not give me that which I would wish to capture. So I always travelled with all sorts of little bits of paper in my pocket... but almost never wished to work outdoors where people would peep into what I was doing, for that distracted my attention."

    Sekoto stuck to this approach throughout his career, which was complementary to his private personality and enabled him to seek and express his emotional portrayal of any composition. The background in Sekoto's paintings often featured landscapes but only as a vehicle to embellish and enrich human activity. The collections of Sekoto's art at both the Iziko National Gallery and the University of the Witwatersrand Art Gallery testify to these tiny bits of paper on which little drawings have been scribbled, capturing a particular moment.

    Sekoto's District Six period (1942-46) reveals much of the painterly experience and confidence that Sekoto had gained while living in Sophiatown. Lessons received from Judith Gluckman and from time spent at St Peter's School were absorbed, and on his arrival in Cape Town, a fresh energy and spiritual mysticism was injected into his new compositions.

    Brother Roger Castle (CR) a teacher at St Peter's School and a loyal sponsor of Sekoto, had arranged for Sekoto to meet the established journalist George Manuel. Manuel organised for Sekoto to live with his family and they became good friends. Sekoto writes:

    "I lived with the journalist George Manuel. The street was on the edge of District Six. On the other side there began the town and I was just opposite the jail – hence the inspiration."

    It was in this vibrant community that Sekoto was able to integrate and observe the activity of his daily surroundings. The proximity to Cape Town itself enabled him to mix freely with members of the close-knit art community where racial intermixing was possible, and he was soon introduced to fellow artists Alexis Preller, George Boonzaier, Lippy Lipshitz, Louis Maurice and Peter Clark.

    This new found freedom and intellectual exchange is evident in the body of work produced in these few years. Walter Battiss ensured that Sekoto was invited to participate in the 5th Anniversary Exhibition of the New Group in Johannesburg in 1943, thus confirming Sekoto's status and acceptance amongst his peers and overriding the racial stigma of being an 'African artist'.

    Sekoto's oeuvre in his District Six period includes such celebrated works as Girl with an Orange, Prisoners with a Boulder, Prison Yard, The Street Musician, Omar, Shebeen, Portrait of a Young Cape Malay Man and Children Playing. He also painted Dawn, which he offered to the Manuel family in lieu of rental payments, where his portrayal of a man fighting a bull, watched by his wife and baby, symbolised Sekoto's belief that "freedom would come one day".

    The jewel in the crown however remains Yellow Houses, District Six for its taut simplicity, harmony of colour and pervasive emotion. The devised architectural structure of walls, windows and doors emphasise and divide the two women and man from one another, accentuating their introspective self-absorption and inertia. Colour contrasts of red roofs and yellow walls and the long afternoon shadows suggest heat and its accompanying lassitude. The darkened shadows of the figures and the road in the foreground lead into the light-blue tonalities of the pavement, stoep and window interiors. The two disinterested passers-by, the woman's skirt uplifted in suggested speed of purpose, contrasts with the apathy and indolence of the mid-ground figures. Golden light surrounds and bathes the disconsolate trio, and the moment is frozen in time.

    The universality of the human condition of poverty and unemployment is masterfully conveyed in Yellow Houses, District Six, whilst the painting still retains a quintessential South African ambiance.

    Sekoto left the Cape in 1945 and went to live with his family in Eastwood, Pretoria. He was beginning to make preparations to leave South Africa and planned to hold two exhibitions to raise funds for this purpose. As a result, he painted prolifically. Great paintings that emerge from the Eastwood period include Sixpence a Door and Song of the Pick and the earlier Yellow Houses, District Six represent the pinnacle of Sekoto's creativity. They confirm his status as an exemplary artist who is well deserving of the fame and renowned legacy that his artistic reputation enjoys today.

    We are grateful to Barbara Lindop for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.


    IMPORTANT NOTICE:
    This lot is in South Africa. Therefore it is not subject to VAT on either the hammer price or the buyer's premium. It will be available for viewing at the Everard Read gallery in Johannesburg. Payment for this lot may be made in Sterling in London or in South African Rand through our Johannesburg office using the published rate of exchange on the date of the auction and collection must be made through our Johannesburg office. Buyers who intend to export this lot from South Africa must apply to the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) for the relevant export permit. Please contact the department for further information.

Saleroom notices

  • IMPORTANT NOTICE: This lot is in South Africa. Therefore it is not subject to VAT on either the hammer price or the buyer's premium. Payment for this lot may be made in Sterling in London or in South African Rand through our Johannesburg office using the published rate of 11.3088 and collection must be made through our Johannesburg office. Buyers who intend to export this lot from South Africa must apply to the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) for the relevant export permit. Please contact the department for further information.
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