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How to export your art collection when you emigrate from South Africa

By August 1, 2023October 5th, 2023FinGlobal

How to export your art collection when you emigrate from South Africa

August 1, 2023


Emigrating? There’s no need to leave your carefully-curated South African art collection behind. Here’s what you must know in order to export your collection safely and to avoid having your valuable artworks unnecessarily delayed at Customs.

Famous South African artworks: a homegrown investment that will only grow in value

Over the last decade, South African art has attracted attention from both local and international collectors drawn to the distinctive styles and perspectives of South African artists. This increasing popularity stems from South Africa’s rich cultural diversity, reflected in the various mediums and styles used by our artists. From traditional forms of expression, like beadwork and woodcarving to contemporary techniques such as installation and performance pieces, our art scene offers a depth of innovative and thought-provoking works.

This growing vibrant contemporary art scene in South Africa has also contributed to the popularity of our art. Renowned artists like William Kentridge and Marlene Dumas have gained global recognition for their groundbreaking work. Furthermore, a thriving network of galleries, museums, and art festivals provide ample opportunity for local artists to showcase their work and connect with collectors.

The increasing demand for diverse voices and viewpoints in the global art market has only fuelled the popularity of South African art. With its multifaceted, fresh perspective, South African art has had a deep impact on collectors and enthusiasts worldwide, making it an exciting and sought-after addition to any art collection.

Who are South Africa’s most famous artists?

Here is an ever-evolving comprehensive alphabetical list of all of South Africa’s artists. However, the top five famous South African artists, as ranked by MutualArt, based on the monetary value of their artworks include:

1. Irma Stern | 1894 – 1966 | Impressionist & Modern Painter

  • Her work has been shown in almost one hundred solo exhibitions, both during her lifetime in South Africa and Europe.
    In 2012, Stern’s painting Fishing Boats was stolen along with four other paintings from a museum in Pretoria. Thanks to an anonymous tip-off, police were able to recover four of the five stolen paintings, found in a cemetery in Port Elizabeth, hidden under a bench.
  • The record price for a Stern at auction is $4,945,671 (R87.3 million) for Arab Priest, sold at Bonhams New Bond Street in 2011.


2. William Kentridge | 1955 – present | Postwar & Contemporary artist

  • Widely recognized for his contributions to contemporary art, Kentridge is known for his distinctive artistic style, which combines drawing, animation, film, and performance to explore themes such as memory, history, and social injustice.
  • In 2022 Kentridge’s works achieved sales of $4,689,667 (more than R82 million).
    Some of Kentridge’s works are included in permanent collections at Honolulu Museum of Art, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Tate Modern in London, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
  • One of the largest and most established photography and film collections in the world, the George Eastman Museum, received the whole collection of Kentridge’s archive and artwork in 2015. This collection includes films, videos, and digital works.

The record auction price for a Kentridge is $1,538,500 (roughly R27 million), which was for PROCESSION, which sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2013.


3. Marlene Dumas | 1953 – present | Postwar & Contemporary artist

  • South African-born artist who is widely regarded as one of the most influential painters of her generation.
  • Dumas is best known for her portraits, which are often of anonymous or obscure figures. Her portraits are characterised by intense emotional impact, as she explores the complexities of human relationships, identity, and sexuality.
  • A truly remarkable artist who has made significant contributions to the contemporary art world through her intense portraits, subtle use of color, provocative subject matter, gaining international recognition and putting South African art on the map.
  • In 2022, her works achieved sales of $4,244,564 (more than R74 million).

The record price for a Dumas is $6,331,884 (R111.7 million) for The Visitor, sold at Sotheby’s London in 2008.


4. Jacob Hendrik Pierneef | 1886 – 1957 | South African landscape artist

  • Considered to be one of the best of the old South African masters, his distinctive style is immediately recognisable, and his work was greatly influenced by the South African landscape.
  • Pierneef was deeply committed to immortalising the beauty of the South African landscape and preserving South African cultural traditions through his art. He used his work to celebrate the natural and cultural diversity of his country and to promote a sense of national pride and identity.
  • $3,101,791 (R54.7 million), was achieved by his work in 2022.

The record auction price for a Pierneef at auction is $1,612,608 (R28 million) in 2017 for Farm Jonkershoek with Twin Peaks Beyond, Stellenbosch, selling at Strauss & Co in Johannesburg.


5. Alexis Preller | 1911 – 1975 | Painter and sculptor

  • Preller’s work was characterised by an intense fusion of European and African influences, used to create striking, imaginative works of art. His paintings often featured bold colours, intricate patterns, fantastical landscapes and creatures.
  • His work is difficult to pin down into any one specific movement or style, as it is highly individualistic. However, he is often associated with the modernist movement in South Africa, and hailed as a significant influence on the development of abstract art in the country.
  • He received numerous awards and honours, including the South African Order of Merit, and his work has been featured in numerous exhibitions both in South Africa and internationally.
  • In 2022, Preller’s works achieved sales of $1,041,452 (R18.4 million).

The record auction price for a Preller is $1,215,296 (R21 million), which was The Garden of Eden, sold in 2011 at Bonhams New Bond Street.


How to emigrate with your South African art collection

You’re not going to be able to roll up your paintings and stuff them in your suitcase, as there are processes that must be properly followed.

  • Artwork may be exported as part of your household and personal effects upon emigration, up to an insured value of R1 million.
  • Where your art collection exceeds R1 million in value, you will need to submit a special application to the South African Reserve Bank, along with a valuation of the artwork.
  • You will need to provide verification as to how and when the artwork was acquired.

If the artwork is older than 50 years, you will need to seek and obtain approval from the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) before you can export the artwork beyond South African borders. The SAHRA is the national administrative body charged with the statutory protection of South Africa’s cultural heritage.

  • You will then need to ​​find a reputable art shipping company: Once you have obtained the necessary permits, you will need to find a reputable art shipping company to transport your artwork overseas. Look for a company that specialises in art shipping and has experience handling valuable artworks.
  • Declare the artwork: When you arrive in your new country, you will need to declare the artwork to customs officials and provide documentation proving that it was legally exported from South Africa.

How is artwork treated for the purposes of calculating Capital Gains Tax on emigration (exit tax)?

Artwork is considered a personal-use asset for tax purposes, and is accordingly exempt from capital gains tax (CGT) as long as it is owned by an individual and not an art dealer. If, however, the artwork is bestowed upon an individual by means of an inter vivos trust, the work will be subject to capital gains tax. In the same vein, if the artwork is owned by a company, it will be subject to capital gains tax.

FinGlobal: cross-border financial specialists for South Africans

Looking to make your international relocation as seamless as possible? We can assist with the migration of your financial affairs. We have already assisted thousands of  South Africans with various aspects of their cross-border financial portfolios – from tax emigration to retirement annuity withdrawal – and we are ready to offer you the same convenient, reliable service.

To find out how we can assist you in starting your new chapter abroad, please leave your contact details in the form below and we’ll be in touch shortly.

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