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Art Conversations: A Tribute to Stephan Welz & Art Valuations at Welgemeend

The illustrious Cape Town manor home of Welgemeend, an estate founded on the slopes of Table Valley in 1693 and declared a monument in 1944, will once again open its doors for a month-long winter exhibition of important South African art.

The exhibition will showcase a selection of works drawn from two important private collections: Welgemeend’s historical collection of earlier 20th-century masterpieces assembled by the much-loved Afrikaans poet and scholar Izak Wilhelmus “Boerneef” van der Merwe, and works from businessman and newly appointed Strauss & Co chairman Frank Kilbourn and his wife Lizelle’s collection of modern and contemporary South African art.

It is the third time that the Kilbourns, passionate art collectors of thirty years, will showcase a sampling of their holding of over 1000 pieces in this classic Cape setting. Their association with Welgemeend is longstanding and goes back to Frank’s time as chairman of Jan van Riebeeck Primary School’s governing board. “I thought it was just the most absolutely beautiful place,” says Kilbourn, who soon came to recognise Welgemeend’s untapped potential as a way to familiarise a younger public with art when he attended a charity auction at the historical home.

That auction was overseen by Stephan Welz, the esteemed head auctioneer and managing director of Strauss & Co who passed away in late 2015. Welz and Kilbourn shared much in common when it came to art and culture – a rich conversation ensued.

“Between Stephan and I, we came up with the idea of putting on this charity exhibition showing some of my collection in a loosely curated fashion,” explains Kilbourn. “This is the third time I’m doing it, although unfortunately this year without Stephan.”

By way of a tribute to Welz, Kilbourn will speak about his friend and fellow art-lover Welz at a fundraiser dinner being hosted at Welgemeend on 4 August. The auctioneer’s widow, Carmen Welz, as well as art critic and consultant Amanda Botha, will join Kilbourn in offering convivial remembrances. Proceeds from the fundraiser dinner, which kicks-off the month-long exhibition and education programme aimed at school learners, will benefit Welgemeend and its remarkable Boerneef Collection.

“Boerneef is such a fantastic example of someone who collected art very passionately and with great dedication, but with limited means,” says Kilbourn. A teacher at the University of Cape Town for four decades, Boerneef eschewed cars and never travelled abroad, devoting himself entirely to his books and art. “The depth of his collection is inspirational,” says Kilbourn. The Boerneef Collection includes works by Irma Stern, Maggie Laubser, Cecil Higgs, Jean Welz, JH Pierneef and Alexis Preller, among others.

The Frank and Lizelle Kilbourn Collection also includes works by Stern and Pierneef, as well as key paintings by Walter Battiss and Robert Hodgins. Frank Kilbourn shares a geographical connection with Stern. Kilbourn hails from maize country: he was born in Ventersdorp in North-West Province, which, he points out, is some 200km north-east of Stern’s birthplace in Schweizer-Reneke. The Kilbourn Collection also includes many works produced after 2000, notably contemporary paintings by Georgina Gratrix, Zander Blom and Khaya Witbooi, and photographic works by Robin Rhode.

Kilbourn’s involvement with Strauss & Co comes at a time of remarkable interest in South African contemporary art globally, which is matched by growing competition in the auction marketplace. Strauss & Co has been quick to respond to these changes. Kilbourn takes over as chairman from businesswoman and collector Elizabeth Bradley, who retired earlier this year.

Shortly before his passing in 2015, Welz personally welcomed the understated collector and publisher Caro Wiese as a member of the board of Strauss & Co. Her tastes and cultural affiliations are strongly aligned with those of the Kilbourns. Wiese is a co-host of the fundraiser dinner together with Frank and Lizelle Kilbourn, The Friends of Welgemeend, Strauss & Co and Delaire Graff Estate.

Commenting on the vibrant mood currently distinguishing the South African auction market, Kilbourn says: “I recognise the importance for investors to have liquidity in the market, which is what auction houses enable. South African art will continue to be well served by a really professional auction firm like Strauss & Co. My new involvement with the company is a continuation and deepening of my love for art.”

Art Valuation Days at Welgemeend, with Strauss & Co Specialists
Friday 5 and Saturday 6 August
R20 per item, maximum of 5 items per person.
For an appointment: 021 683 6560 ct@straussart.co.za

Proceeds in aid of the restoration and conservation of Welgemeend and the Boerneef Art Collection