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 divided well into the 1930s between those favouring the traditional and those embracing radical aesthetic change. 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, which was highly unusual for such a young artist, relatively unknown outside Pretoria. The year 1936 was also the year in which Preller began exhibiting solo shows of his work in South Africa. These exhibitions met with acclaim, and found favour with established artists such as J.H. Pierneef, who purchased two of Preller's paintings.
Preller understood the influence of Africa on European modernism, and sought to embrace African influence and identity throughout his career. He also admired, and was influenced by, his fellow South African modernists, particularly 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.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Berman & K. Nel, Alexis Preller, a Visual Biography: Africa, the Sun and Shadows, (Johannesburg, 2009), pp. 28, 47