Dear Stella

Dear Stella

Dear Stella, I’ve recently inherited a lovely art collection that includes some old South African masters. I have a more contemporary collection of my own and I am a little unsure of how to merge the two. Any advice? Dave S. (Bryanston)

Oh, Dave. At first glance, this feels like a non-problem to me. Who, really, gets to casually use the phrase ‘a lovely art collection that includes some old South African masters’? I am greener than Pantone’s official colour for 2013 (which was, of course, Emerald.)

That said, I did have a little chat to some friends who are experts in the biz. But, before we get into the nitty-gritty let me share with you what I always tell my art-loving friends and family… COLLECT ART YOU LOVE. I am not a fan of people who buy art because someone told them it’s collectable. Who wants to spend all day looking at stuff you don’t connect with? Might as well head for Tinder.

Trust your gut, Dave. Your art collection should say something about who you are. And not just about how much loot you’ve got.

My dear friend, Mark van Hoogstraten, is great with advising people on collecting, so if you want to get in touch with him privately, I’ve included his details below. He’s more learned on the ‘traditional’ pieces than I am, i.e. he knows his Cecil Skotneses from his Herman van Nazareths. On your specific dilemma, Mark says: “The trick with art, as with furniture, is to mix up the traditional and contemporary. The two offset each other, creating tension, excitement and interest”. Isn’t that just a grand notion?

I also recently had a word with Strauss & Co’s Wilhelm van Rensburg in Joburg who shared a different methodology: “Start by sorting your collection into two piles: the more traditional works and the more contemporary art (the difference should be fairly obvious!). I’d then say try the contemporary, often bigger and bolder works, in large, open plan spaces such as living rooms. You could also try the traditional works in the more intimate spaces, such as bedrooms and studies. Whatever does not work- contact Strauss & Co for a valuation!”

So there you have it: two different approaches to try. And, if you’re still struggling, then try arranging your collection by looking at common threads: colours, styles or subject matter. Then group your pieces that way. Live with the strangeness of the juxtaposition (old and new) for a while. I mean, I thought I.M. Pei’s glass pyramids at the Louvre were totally, utterly hideous when I first saw them. Now, with the passing of time, I just know they’re hideous.

I am generally a huge fan of keeping paintings in their original frames, especially those of inherited or more classic pieces, but, in your case, you may want to consider updating them to bring some unity to your walls.

And if, Dave, after all that, you’re sitting with art that doesn’t resonate with you, then why not take up Wilhelm’s offer and auction it off? South Africa’s buoyant art scene means there’s fun to be had in buying and selling art.

I’ve also heard some galleries offer a swop-service: if you’ve bought a piece but have fallen out of love with it, you can return it for a piece that brings you more joy. Do they take second husbands, I wonder?

Anyway, I hope I’ve helped out a bit, darling Dave. But, if not, then do get in touch with the chaps I’ve mentioned here and get their professional advice. They’ll charge you, of course, but there’s huge value in their expertise. And what’s a small bill between Skotneses anyway?

Yours, framed in diamanté,


Contact details:
Mark van Hoogstraten:
Wilhelm van Rensburg: Strauss & Co Johannesburg 011-728-8246

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