Freida Lock (South African, 1902-1962) Portrait of a sheikh, Zanzibar within original Zanzibar frame
Lot 345*
Freida Lock (South African, 1902-1962) Portrait of a sheikh, Zanzibar within original Zanzibar frame
Sold for £58,850 (US$ 99,101) inc. premium
Lot Details
Freida Lock (South African, 1902-1962)
Portrait of a sheikh, Zanzibar
oil on canvas laid to board
71 x 54cm (27 15/16 x 21 1/4in).
within original Zanzibar frame


  • Although predominantly known for her interior and still life paintings, in 1948 Freida Lock travelled to Zanzibar, producing some of her most famous portraits and street scenes. Among these are her portraits of Arab sitters, composed with a great sense of vigour in both colour and brushwork. The Portrait of a sheikh, Zanzibar was a personal favourite of Lock's, to the extent that she hung it above her bed. The portrait's pride of place is immortalised in the artist's painting of her bedroom, completed in 1949: Interior with Green Hat (sold at Stephan Welz & Co, Cape Town, 18 October 2011, lot 514). In Interior with Green Hat, the portrait is merely a faceless swirl of dark beard, white turban, and a green and yellow background, but its composition is unmistakeably the present lot.

    The sitter was not, in fact, a sheikh (in the sense of formal nobility), but rather a distinguished Arab man in traditional dress from the Tabora region of Tanzania, whom Lock met during a visit to the island of Pemba (about 80km from the island of Zanzibar). He returned to Zanzibar with Lock, who was so delighted with the resulting painting that she insisted on taking a photograph of the sitter with his portrait (reproduced here with permission from Lock's family). In the photograph, the sitter's gaze does not directly meet the viewer's: instead, our eyes are locked on those of the portrait subject, who seems to regard us intently.

    Like Irma Stern, Lock used carved Zanzibari door frame strips to frame these works, resulting in a measure of tension between the two artists, as Stern asserted unique authorship over their use. However, the present lot stands out through Lock's characteristic use of dark, meandering outlines to delineate form, her preference, as art historian Esmé Berman points out, for intense areas of pale grey, cream and oyster pink, and, above all, a fondness for "the chalky tone and texture obtained from zinc-white applied in thick impasto". These more pearlescent tones are highlighted by dramatic background hues: green, yellow and red.

    Born in Cheadle Hume, England, Lock initially studied agriculture at Reading University at her parents' persuasion. Her studies were cut short when the family moved to Stellenbosch in 1921 to establish a fruit farm, where she assisted with cattle maintenance and fruit packing. However, Lock was determined to become an artist and finally, at the age of 30, she returned to England to take up art studies at the Heatherley School of Art. Notably, Heatherley was the first school to admit women and men on an equal footing.

    At Heatherley, Lock encountered the work of Cézanne, Van Gogh and Braque; it was also here that she met Terence McCaw and Gregoire Boonzaier, with whom she would co-found The New Group in 1938. The New Group consisted of a number of young, independent artists united in their desire to expose a conservative South African art world to European modernism. Lock's Portrait of a sheikh, Zanzibar reflects an innovative, self-assured artist who has achieved these broader aims, while simultaneously conveying something of her own unique and vital personality.

    We are grateful to Miss Claire Espiner, niece of the artist, for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.

    E. Berman, Art and Artists of South Africa, (Cape Town, 1983), p.268

Saleroom notices

  • The sitter is in fact not the gentleman that Freida met on her trip to Pemba, as Victor Glasstone, who accompanied Freida on this trip, recalls that he was clean-shaven.
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