'The Garden of Eden' signed and dated 'Preller 54' (lower right) oil on canvas 61 x 76cm (24 x 29 15/16in).
PROVENANCE: Collection of Mr R.A. Ross His sale, Stephan Welz & Co., Johannesburg, 2 August 1993, lot 113
EXHIBITED: Pretoria, Pretoria Art Museum, Alexis Preller Retrospective, 24 Oct - 26 Nov 1972, no.76, illustrated
LITERATURE: E. Berman & K. Nel, Alexis Preller, a Visual Biography, (Johannesburg, 2009), illustrated p.132 S. Welz, Art at Auction in South Africa: 1969 to 1995, (Saxonwold, 1996), illustrated p.172
The present lot is the larger of two versions of The Garden of Eden painted in 1954, and includes several details on which Preller expanded in Adam and Eve (from Dogon sculpture), 1955 (illustrated in Berman & Nel 2009, p.130).
Here, Preller depicts a Dogon carving of a man and wife, as seen from the front and the back, and a profile view of a Dogon hermaphroditic figure. It is unusual, as Berman and Nel point out, to find Preller making faithful representations of actual objects at this stage of his oeuvre, but here he has adopted these figures as "stand-ins for the human protagonists in a Judeo-Christian cultural myth".
"There is an evocative and complex dynamic to the conceptual sequence. The archetype was the three-dimensional carving, created in conformity with a specific, long-established cultural convention. Then followed the translation of an aspect of the wooden artefact into a two-dimensional image, by modern - 'neutral' - photographic means.
"It is that image that becomes the subject of Preller's painting. Although the outlines of those figures are entirely faithful to the photographic analogue, their identity has been subtly and symbolically transformed. They may look like Dogon figures, but set down here in an abstract landscape, with conventionalised elements derived from other African artefacts, their role is to synthesise the origin myths of humankind. They have become hieratic entities, coloured in the manner of Egyptian tomb and temple friezes - male figures dark, females light."
"The work has been meticulously crafted. The colouring is subtle, the forms are crystal clear, the space luminous and bounded only by the decorative margins of the format. In all, a wondrously paradoxical blend of African and Quattrocento and subjective inspiration. Significantly, although there are no shadows and no indication of the source of the all-embracing light, the main elements of the composition - excepting only the symbolic Tree of Life...are surrounded by a shadowy silhouette, a device that had appeared in previous Preller paintings and will appear again and again."
BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Berman & K. Nel, Alexis Preller, a Visual Biography, (Johannesburg, 2009)pp.131-3)