Athi-Patra Ruga
'The Knight of the Long Knives I' by Athi-Patra Ruga
  • A photo by South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga has been auctioned for than R1 million.
  • Strauss & Co auctioneers say this is the highest price ever achieved for a South African photograph.
  • The photo is of a woman whose upper body is covered in balloons, while riding a zebra "decorated a bit like a holy cow in India", according to the artist.

In a South African first, a photo went under the hammer for more than R1 million.

Award-winning local artist, Athi-Patra Ruga's The Knight of the Long Knives I fetched a record-breaking R1,707,000 at fine art auctioneers Strauss & Co's recent contemporary art sale held in Cape Town this month.

"The remarkable sale price not only set a new world record for the East London-raised artist, but also marked the first time a photograph has ever sold for more than R1 million at a local auction," according to the auction house. Strauss says two bidders determinedly tried to outbid each other, in a fierce contest to secure the photograph. 

Read more: Here's what the 15 most expensive paintings from South Africa look like

The 2013 photo is of a woman in black pumps and pink stockings with her upper body covered in multi-coloured balloons. She is riding a dressed up zebra. 

The Knight of the Long Knives I forms part of the artist's Future White Women of Azania series that comprises a set of mythical characters like the one mounted atop the zebra.

'The Knight of the Long Knives II' by Athi-Patra Ruga (WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery)

'Thud of a snowflake' by Athi-Patra Ruga (WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery)

In making The Knight of the Long Knives I Ruga told UK publication, The Guardian "I wanted to create a quasi-funereal procession, with pomp and fanfare. I decorated the zebra a bit like a holy cow in India, or a Spanish horse, or a dressage champion, giving it sabre teeth and custom-made accessories." 

The top-selling lot after Ruga was an early work by painter Marlene Dumas, which sold for R1,593,000, a new SA record for the Amsterdam-based artist.

marlene dumas
'Naked Man' by Marlene Dumas (Strauss & Co)

A colourist landscape painted in 1997 by Robert Hodgins rounded off the top three, fetching R1,024,000.

'Landscape with Figures' by Robert Hodgins (Strauss & Co)

Overall, the contemporary art auction fetched R12.8 million in sales.

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