Strauss & co - 26 - 28 July 2020, Online

188 421 Walter Battiss SOUTH AFRICAN 1906–1982 Athletics, Pretoria Boys High signed; dated 1946 in pencil on the reverse oil on artist’s board 40 by 50,5 cm R120 000 – 180 000 Art master at Pretoria Boys High School for a good 30 years of his life, Walter Battiss was known as a quirky and eccentric teacher. He was seconded from Park School, Turffontein in 1936 where he started his teaching career after graduating from the Johannesburg Teachers’Training College in 1932. He only left Boys High in 1964, to take up a professorship as Head of the Department of History of Art and Fine Art at Unisa. Battiss painted various school activities, and in Lots 421 and 422 he focuses on sports events on the school campus – athletes competing on the orange earth track in an inter-house athletics meeting, and cricketers battling it out on the field now known as Hofmeyr Oval. There is something undeniably festive about marquee tents full of eager spectators and the banners arranged around the athletics track. The tall central banner is the school’s flag and the others represent the three boarding houses (Rissik, Solomon and School) and the three day-boy houses (Arcadia, Town and Sunnyside). The cricketers are playing in the Masters’League, a longstanding PBHS tradition in which internal games were arranged for boys who did not play for regular school teams. The schoolmasters would each manage a team. In the background behind the athletics track, the copula of the main school building is just visible above the mass of trees in the middle ground. On top of the dome is the figure of a schoolboy holding a book and a rugby ball in his hands. Battiss assisted two other local sculptors, Rottcher and Gallman in carving the figure out of a solid block of kiaat wood. The figure was then cast in more permanent bronze, prompting the boys to jokingly refer to the figure as the god Mercury, as it purportedly deflected bolts of lightning from the building. The joyous, energetic spirit of generations of boys at Boys High surfaces ebulliently in these two paintings.