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Works by some of the best-known names in South African art and a selection of decorative arts across a wide range of disciplines combined to produce a bumper late summer auction at Strauss and Co (12% buyer’s premium) in Cape Town.

The auction, held on March 6 and numbering just under 600 lots, achieved 88% sold by volume to generate R73.4m (£4.6m), the highest total for a single sale in South Africa, beating the auction house’s own previous high of R66.8m set back in 2010.

While the big money was paid for paintings by well-known names with an auction track record such as Irma Stern and Maggie Laubster, some of the most surprising results came from the works of art section.

They included two late 19th century brass imperial bushel measures, each approximately 2ft 2in (65cm) across.

They had been produced by the well-known London firm of de Grave Short and Co, who commonly produced weights and measures for local authorities, and had been consigned to Strauss by a brother and sister born into a local merchant family.

What lifted them out of the ordinary, however, and made them of particular local interest were their inscriptions, indicating use by South African government authorities. One was inscribed Govt of Cape of Good Hope 1877, the other Govt of the Transvaal 1889.

This was enough for Strauss to give them estimates of R80,000- 100,000 and R60,000-80,000 respectively, more than a standard British Victorian bushel measure.

However, when these came under the hammer bidders drove the prices to no less than R920,000 (£57,500) for the Transvaal version and R1.65m (£103,125) for the Cape of Good Hope version, paid by a South African collector.

Stern top lot

On the rostrum for the evening session devoted to South African and international art was British auctioneer Dendy Easton, who flew out especially to take the sale.

He brought the gavel down on the top lot of the day, Irma Stern’s Young Arab, which realised a within-estimate R12m (£750,000).

The 2ft x 20in (60 x 50cm) signed and dated canvas, which was produced during the artist’s visit to the Congo in 1942, was first exhibited at the Gainsborough Gallery, Johannesburg, in that year, where it was acquired for £40.

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