Testament to a Lifetime of Passionate Collecting; Jack Kahn's Love for Art Had Nothing to Do with Status, Writes Melvyn Minnaar

Cape Times (South Africa), February 6, 2007 | Go to article overview

Testament to a Lifetime of Passionate Collecting; Jack Kahn's Love for Art Had Nothing to Do with Status, Writes Melvyn Minnaar


Of course, it's not the sort of thing that art dealers tell you face to face when they want you to fork out a fortune for a painting. But the real truth behind great private art collections is simply a matter of love, a sharp eye and, maybe, yes, a little money to spend judiciously. And it's all personal.

Jack Kahn, who lived with his wife Helene for many years in an unassuming apartment in Sea Point with astounding paintings on the walls, was such a collector. He loved art and he acquired some of the best to suit their private pleasure.

Now the local art world is buzz-ing with excitement because The Collection of the Late Jack and Helene Kahn (the manner and wording in which these matters are announced, publicised and executed in the grand world of high-art auctions) is coming up for sale.

Next Tuesday, Stephan Welz & Co, in association with Sotheby's, are selling what they call "one of the most valuable private single owner collections of South African art to be offered for sale in recent years".

The collection of 45 paintings is expected to fetch more than R7 million, with some works probably surpassing the R1m mark. What makes this particularly significant is that a number of charities stands to benefit from the sale.

Giving the money to good causes fits in perfectly with Kahn's private vision of what his art collection meant to him.

Kahn, a humble man who was well into his 80s when he died in 2005 (his wife Helene, as his friend Joe Wolpe remarked, never recovered from her loss and died the following year), had a life-long art passion. It had nothing to do with status and all with true love.

His art love affair started at an early age and the collection reflects the time when he seemed truly mesmerised by the art that Cape Town artists, in the prime of their careers, were producing.

The artworks that finally left the Sea Point apartment were shown at an attention-grabbing exhibition in Johannesburg last week and will lure Cape Town art lovers to Kirstenbosch where they will be viewed and sold.

It comprises important pieces by 19 major South African artists. Included are four works by Irma Stern, two by Maggie Laubser, three landscapes by Hugo Naude, a reclining nude by Jean Welz, and paintings by Gregoire Boonzaier, Ruth Prowse, Maurice van Essche, Cecil Higgs, Paul du Toit and a beauty by Eleanor Esmond-White.

Although, given the heat in the local art market, the Sterns, in particular, are expected to be sold for close to R1.5m each, of special interest on the list for those who know a little about the history of the Kahns, will be works by Wolf Kibel and Lippy Lipshitz.

Both these artists featured prominently in Kahn's early life when his father owned what was well-known in the early years of the last century as the Orient Candle Factory in Roeland Street.

Art personality Joe Wolpe, who was a fellow pupil at SACS with Jack in the 1930s, tells the story: "His introduction to the art world began in his early years when his father ran the candle factory in Roeland Street. In the adjacent grounds, a dilapidated old house served as studios for two young impoverished artists struggling to establish themselves, Wolf Kibel and Lippy Lipshitz. …

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