'The Fishermen of Beau Vallon', 1949 signed 'Preller' (lower left) oil on canvas 61 x 71.5cm (24 x 28 1/8in).
PROVENANCE Acquired directly from the artist by the current owner
EXHIBITED Pretoria, Pretoria Art Museum, Alexis Preller Retrospective, 24 Oct - 26 Nov 1972, no.44, illustrated b&w
LITERATURE E. Berman & K. Nel, Alexis Preller, a Visual Biography, (Johannesburg, 2009), illustrated p. 86
Alexis Preller is one of South Africa's major and distinguished artists of his generation. The esteemed art critic, Esme Berman succinctly asserts that in the same manner that his art was unusual and complex, so was his unusual and complex temperament. Preller's art and his world are multi-dimensional and entwined, his allusive and buoyant spirit of expression permeated the many planes of experience confronted throughout his life. The images which he collected during his perceptual experiences were later conceptualised and transformed, becoming the pictorial architecture in which the artist conveyed emotional, autobiographical and abstract themes.
Preller's abandon of his studio at Yggdrasil was provoked by his search for a clean break and his need for an uncomplicated space where he could quietly reflect. Jacob Pierneef's romantic descriptions of the unspoilt, tropical surroundings of the Seychelles prompted the artist to begin his journey up the East Coast of Africa in October 1948. A few days after reaching Victoria, the main town Mahé and capital of the Seychelles, Alexis went onto Beau Vallon; the bay located on the north western coast of Mahé. In a letter to his sister Minnie, Alexis relayed his early impressions of Beau Vallon:
''I have been for the most heavenly walks along the beach and have been making mental notes along the way. In the small bay, in front of the hotel, the fishermen keep five boats. Early in the morning they go out about 10 in a boat and return late evening. It is a terrific spectacle when they come in. Dozens of natives come running along to greet them, having heard the conch shells blowing . . . .The water is very clear so clear that the coral can be seen nearly 20 feet below the surface and its all dramatic and beautifully lit like a stage set ...''
Fascinated by the daily activities and lifestyle of the Seychellois which included fishing, harvesting, building boats and mending nets, amongst other activities, Preller would spend time meticulously studying the objects, scenes and figures, allowing his perceptions to percolate over time before injecting these images with his creative expression. It's suggested that The Fishermen of Beau Vallon was not painted on the island, but several months after his sojourn in the Seychelles, allowing these concepts to develop into his own creative expressions. Captivated by the atmosphere and the unfamiliar surroundings, Preller formed various studies of his perceptions which went on to form the core of the group of works completed on the island and later in Pretoria. It's fitting at this point to emphasise that the process of repetition, adaptation, variation and transformation is the approach that guided Preller's artistic development throughout his career. The Fishermen of Beau Vallon exemplifies the creative processing and treatment that transformed an objective experience into a work of art. Although it was not unfaithful to its visual source, the image had undergone a 'metamorphosis', emerging as something original, unique and punctiliously crafted.
Immediately, the various shades of aquamarine blue, citrus orange and lime green lure the viewer's eye into this stylised scene, suggestive of an incident in a folktale in which the elements have been ritualised by repeated telling. The composition is anchored in the saturation of the gentle hues of blue and turquoise colours, enlivened by the judicious infusions of the citrus orange fishes and the emerald green trees. It is Preller's superb colour handling which captures the sparkling spirit and magical yet naive atmosphere of the island. The vigour of this image is invested in the rhythm, further accentuating the whimsical charm of the work. The upward curves of the palm trees and the flow of the water bring movement to an otherwise distilled scene of the fishermen performing their daily activities. From his observations of tribal life and ritual, Preller created a myth by exhaling his imaginative expression into his concepts. Although Preller did not yet find his sought after African shape among the native people, the spirit of the island was harmonious with his poetic vision, giving expression to the particular spirit of the various circumstances which he experienced.
BIBLIOGRAPHY E. Berman & K. Nel, Alexis Preller: Collected Images, (Johannesburg, 2009), pp.85-89, 123-137