Modern & Contemporary African Art

Modern & Contemporary African Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 8. St Francis .

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection

Sydney Kumalo

St Francis

Auction Closed

March 21, 03:48 PM GMT


30,000 - 50,000 GBP

Lot Details


Sydney Kumalo

South African


St Francis (1962)

signed and numbered K IX/X


70 by 21.5 by 21cm., 27½ by 8½ by 8¼in.(with base)

Egon Guenther Gallery, Johannesburg, 1968

Thence by descent

H.E Winder, Kumalo's work thrills, Rand Daily Mail, 11 May 1962 (probably another cast)

Charles Eglington, Sydney Kumalo, Jewish Affairs, May 1962 (probably another cast)

Zandberg Jansen, Beeldhouwerk in die Republiek word selfstandig, Suid-Afrikaanse Stem, 3 June 1962 (probably another cast)

F.L Alexander, Art in South Africa: Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Work since 1900, Cape Town, Balkema, 1962 (probably another cast)

Gavin Watkins & Charles Skinner, The Sculptures of Sydney Kumalo and Ezrom Legae A Catalogue Raisonné, Johannesburg, 2023, no. SK13, pp. 142-145, illustrated in colour & black and white (probably another cast)

For complete literature and reference list, including exhibition sales lists, please consult G. Watkins & C. Skinner, The Sculptures of Sydney Kumalo and Ezrom Legae A Catalogue Raisonné, pp. 142-145 & appendices 3, 4.

Egon Guenther Gallery, Connaught Mansions, 215 Bree Street, An Exhibition of Sculpture and Drawings by Sydney Kumalo, Johannesburg, 8 May-2 June 1962 (probably another cast)

Grosvenor Gallery, Kumalo-Skotnes, London, 12 July-6 August 1966 (probably another cast)

Grosvenor Gallery, Four Sculptors (Ayrton, Gutfreund, Kumalo, Neizvestny), New York, 22 November-31 December 1966 (probably another cast)

Egon Guenther Gallery, Sydney Kumalo, Bronzes and Drawings, Johannesburg, 21 February-10 March 1967 (probably another cast)

South African Association of Arts, Sydney Kumalo, Solo Exhibition of Bronzes and Drawings, Pretoria, 20 March-1 April 1967; edition number viii/x (another cast)

South African National Gallery, Friends' Collection, Cape Town, 2 February-13 March 1971, cat. no. 140 (this cast)

Johannesburg Art Gallery, The Neglected Tradition: Towards a New History of South African Art (1930-1988), 23 November-8 January 1989 ( probably another cast)

For complete exhibitions list, please consult G. Watkins & C.Skinner, The Sculptures of Sydney Kumalo and Ezrom Legae A Catalogue Raisonné, pp. 142-145.

The present lot, entitled St Francis by South African modernist Sydney Kumalo, is one of the artist’s most recognized and sought-after works. Depicting St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, who renounced worldly goods to embrace a life of poverty, this sculpture was conceived in 1962 and is edition IX of X cast by the Vignali Foundry (Pretoria) for Egon Guenther Gallery (Johannesburg).

Renowned for his unwavering respect for all of God’s creatures and acts of compassion, representations of St Francis of Assisi are typically accompanied by animals or birds. Here, Kumalo’s striking bronze cradles a dove in one hand—the symbol for peace and new beginnings—while proudly lifting his other towards the sky in an upraised symbol reminiscent of the blessing Hand of Benediction and the global symbol for peace.

Kumalo’s oeuvre is united by his ability to meld Christian and African symbolism, juxtaposing symbols of power and confrontation with serenity and peace. The present lot, with a face reminiscent of an African mask, displays notes of hard-edged African carved sculpture while still capturing the compassion and emotion associated with the venerated saint. The ‘carved’ body is anchored by angular feet so often seen in traditional wood sculpture, and the outstretched arm is reminiscent of Amandla, the Xhosa and Zulu power salute for solidarity during the black liberation movement.

Born in Johannesburg in 1935, Kumalo initially honed his sculptural skills at the Polly Street Bantu Men's Social Centre in 1952, under the supervision of Polly Street Director, Cecil Skotnes, a renowned wood engraver and painter who quickly recognized Kumalo's talent and became his mentor. Shortly after, Kumalo joined the studio of Edoardo Villa as an assistant, where he gained invaluable experience using clay, bronze, stone, and steel. Following Skotnes's departure from the Polly Street Art Centre, Kumalo assumed the role of Director for four years before resigning to focus on his practice. A significant influence on Kumalo's artistic development occurred in 1962 when he encountered Egon Guenther, a collector and gallerist. Kumalo held three solo exhibitions at Guenther's gallery in 1962, 1966, and 1967, marking pivotal moments in his career.