Native study signed 'Preller' (lower right) oil on canvas 51 x 41.1cm (20 1/16 x 16 3/16in).
Stylistically consistent with Alexis Preller's works from the mid 1930s, Native study dates from the early stages of the artist's career. At the time, art in South Africa, as in much of the world, was undergoing a radical change due to the influences of modernism. The South African art world was very much divided well into the 1930s between those favouring the traditional, and those embracing the radical changes. The 1936 Empire exhibition in Johannesburg was particularly momentous for the advent of modernism on the South African art scene. "The South African section was the most important display of the country's urban art yet assembled important because it was selected from submitted works by a knowledgeable jury, which was disposed, for the first time, to accord attention to the so-called 'modern' styles." A work entitled Native study (Mapogges) by Preller was amongst the 117 selections. The year 1936 was also the year in which Preller began exhibiting solo shows of his work in South Africa.
Preller admired, and was influenced by, his fellow South African modernists, in particular Irma Stern and Maggie Laubser. One can see the influence of each in the present work the native subject so familiar to Stern, and the bold, flat areas of colour of Laubser. "The artist's first love is colour. Contrasting sometimes pleasantly, sometimes harshly, sometimes startlingly, it is always lavish, flamboyant. On this occasion his colour choice and treatment is not only unorthodox, it is at times almost astounding in its revolutionary character." Native study exhibits a colour palette deeper and broader than that which Preller used in his later years. It is very much influenced by the pure, flat colour used by Laubser. Preller understood the influence of Africa on European modernism, and sought to embrace African influence and African identity throughout his career.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Berman & K. Nel, Alexis Preller, a Visual Biography: Africa, the Sun and Shadows, (Johannesburg, 2009), pp 28, 47