Girl with guitar signed and dated 'G SEKOTO / 49' (lower right) oil on canvas 79 x 98cm (31 1/8 x 38 9/16in).
PROVENANCE Acquired directly from the artist by Mr & Mrs Louis and Elsa Shapiro Thence by descent to the current owner
EXHIBITED Paris, Île de la Cité, 1971
Recognised as the pioneer figure of modern South African art, Gerard Sekoto attained near mythic status as the exiled father of black painting in South Africa. The early 1980s witnessed the rapid ascendancy of the National Party in South Africa. Coupled with their dogmatic and repressive policies firmly rooted in racial segregation, many of the black intelligentsia, such as the novelist Peter Abrahams and the avant-garde artist Ernest Mancoba, chose to seek artistic and intellectual liberation elsewhere. Fearful of the prospects for his artistic career, Sekoto would too leave the country he loved, commencing a lifelong exile in Paris. Believing that Paris; the idealised place of freedom and intellectual liberation, would liberate him artistically, Sekoto's first two years proved to be very difficult and his paintings during the early-exile period evidences the pain and suffering.
While Sekoto had the freedom to express himself as an artist and to live in a non-racial society in Paris, he struggled to make a living and was forced to work in Parisian night clubs. He was employed as a pianist at the Parisian bar, L'Echelle de Jacob. Prior to the audition he saw a young girl sitting outside the bar: "We saw people going in and out, carrying guitars. I suggested we have a beer. We went inside and saw a young girl there and I wanted to know what was happening. She told me there was an audition in progress and if I was a musician, why did I not take a try. I told her I was pianist...she suggested I ask the patron for an audition". The subject for Girl with guitar could very possibly have been inspired by one of his fellow musicians.
South African pharmacist and his wife, Louis and Elsa Shapiro, lived in Paris in 1948-1954 and met Sekoto soon after their arrival. The couple would often go to L'Echelle de Jacob and listen to Sekoto play and chat with him; a close friendship soon developed. In 1971 Sekoto held an exhibition on the Île de la Cité where the Shapiros purchased Girl with Guitar. In a letter to Ms Leslie Spiro, the then curator of the Johannesburg Art Gallery, in 1988, Elsa refers to the subject as "a Mauritian hostess playing the guitar, in blues and greys it has an extraordinary and tender quality".
Girl with Guitar was one of the first paintings evoking the melancholy characteristic of Sekoto's blue period which spans from 1949 1960. The cold tonal changes hugely contrast to Sekoto's usual vibrant depictions of society in South Africa, symbolising the loneliness he felt away from his dear country. The pensive atmosphere is heightened by the focused, downward gaze of the female figure, consumed by the music she is composing. This image is a memorable demonstration of his ability to use colour and composition to create a particular tone and atmosphere of tranquillity. The tone and texture of the hues of blue and grey, coupled with the balance of light and shade and the psychological prominence of the figure in the foreground, arrests the viewer's attention aesthetically, emotionally and intellectually, bringing to life the goings on and drama of the internal world of the girl with the guitar.
BIBLIOGRAPHY N. Chabani Manganyi, Gerard Sekoto: I am an African, (Johannesburg: 2001), pp.61, 76 E. Shapiro, unpublished letter to Ms Leslie Spiro in connection to the Sekoto retrospective exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, 1988
This lot is dated 1969, not 1949 as originally catalogued