The 'Herb Seller' by Vladimir Tretchikoff (1913-2006), a Russian émigré to South Africa, will be sold by Bonhams on March 20th in London. Painted in 1949, it is estimated to sell for £80,000 to £120,000.
At one time the painting was owned by Jan Haak, minister of Economic Affairs in the late 1960s and then by R. F. "Pik" Botha, South Africa's ambassador to the USA in 1975 and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1977.
The painting is particularly significant as the first work by Tretchikoff to be shown in the South African National Gallery, when it was included in the exhibition 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective, a survey of a century of South African art. The work is also seen as particularly significant for its socio-political resonances, which seldom surface in Tretchikoff's oeuvre. As Andrew Lamprecht elaborates, "The painting depicts a well-known 'character' in Cape Town, disenfranchised because of South Africa's race policies, which were expanding to devastating effect soon after Tretchikoff arrived in his adopted land. Behind the direct gaze of the main figure are the torn posters of two political rivals: Smuts of the 'liberal' United Party and Malan of the apartheid-initiating National Party."
Richard Buncher, in his 1950 publication on Tretchikoff, records the following of the sitter: "When this old Cape Coloured woman died shortly after the completion of this portrait, it was as if a landmark had been taken from Cape Town. For many years she had sold her knowledge of the healing properties of nature in a corner of the Grand Parade, once the site of Van Riebeeck's wooden fort, by then the scene of many a political gathering, all of which left her unmoved. Her place was taken by her daughter, and so the traditions of the past were handed down from one generation to another".
Giles Peppiatt, Director of South African Art at Bonhams, comments: "This picture offers a fascinating glimpse into the street life of apartheid South Africa. It is unusual too in being owned by two South African Government ministers. Both initially helped to implement and sustain the policy of Apartheid the forced removals and political disenfranchisement of people just like this herb seller and yet they had this image hanging in their homes. It is both ironic and fascinating. Botha, however, would go on to serve in the first post-apartheid government as Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs, eventually joining the ANC in 2000. In many ways, the picture's provenance offers as much a portrait of South Africa's complex history as its subject does a portrait of a memorable individual."
PICTURE PROVENANCE: Mrs A.S. East, Cape Town; Jan F. W. Haak, Minister of Economic Affairs, 1967-1970; R. F. 'Pik' Botha, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1977-1994; Minster of Mineral and Energy Affairs, 1994-1996; Mr B.H. Cohen; A private trust