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Baron and Baroness von Oertzen Collection
THE VON OERTZEN COLLECTION (lots 104-134)
The late Baroness Irene von Oertzen (1908-2007) and her husband Baron Klaus-Detlof von Oertzen (1894 - 1991), were passionate collectors of Chinese art, and together they amassed a remarkable collection of great scope and quality, particularly in regards to Chinese jade carvings. The Baroness not only could speak and write Chinese fluently, she also had a profound understanding of the Chinese culture, having lived and worked there for seven years. The Baron is descended from one of the oldest families of North Germany and was a world-renowned industrialist involved in the motor industry for most of his long life. The couple settled in South Africa after the Second World War, and he is sometimes referred to as the "Father of Volkswagen of South Africa".
In 1932 Baron von Oertzen, who had been in charge of sales at the motor manufacturer Wanderer, became sales director and chairman of the board of directors of Auto Union - the amalgamation of Wanderer and three other German manufacturers, namely Audi, DKW and Horch, under the pressures of the depressed German economy. The new company's four-ringed emblem, which von Oertzen suggested, can still be seen in the modern Audi logo.
To bring fame to the new company, von Oertzen, in collaboration with Dr. Ferdinand Porsche and one of Germany's most successful racing drivers, Hans Stuck, began work on a government-sponsored racing programme, in direct competition with rival Daimler-Benz. By 1934 the racing cars produced by Auto Union broke five world speed records and establish Auto Union as a world class car manufacturer. Despite the success the von Oertzens were not comfortable with the prevailing political ideology at the time, and grew uneasy in pre-war Germany. In November 1935 the Baron and Baroness went to Paris to open the Motor Show for Auto Union and, without returning to Germany, departed for South Africa. From 1936 he initiated the export of the DKW saloon car to South Africa and Australia and in 1937 he arranged for the Auto Union Grand Prix racing cars to be brought out to South Africa for promotional purposes. The car competed in races both in Cape Town and East London.
The Baron and Baroness travelled in 1938 via India to Australia, where they stayed for two years, setting up a factory to manufacture the DKW saloon. Before the outbreak of war the car was selling at the rate of 2000 a year in Australia and New Zealand. As the war clouds gathered business was declining, and the couple arrived in Batavia (modern day Jakarta) of the Dutch East Indies. In May 1940 Hitler invaded Holland, and the Baron and Baroness were interned separately in prison camps by the Dutch authorities. He was later transferred to India as the Japanese approached Singpore, while she was transferred to China. The Baroness managed to get a job working for the Canadian Consulate General in China, and during her years in China she began her studies in Chinese culture and language. It was during this period that her passion in Chinese art developed. The Baroness had a special fondess for jade carvings, and the von Oertzen collection includes a distinguished group of jade pieces from as ancient as the Neolithic times to the early 20th century. The size and range of the collection is astounding, and there are some very rare and important pieces, such as the green jade ornament from the Hongshan Culeture (lot 108), a group of ceremonial blades from the Neolithic to the Shang period (lots 116, 117, 119), a beautiful white jade pendant similar to pieces excavated from Jincun (lot 127), and an extremely fine Western Han jade belt hook (128). The collection also includes an extremely rare Imperial painting of one of the Qianlong Emperor's loyal bannerman (to be offered in our Hong Kong rooms).
The Baroness through her contacts in the consulate managed to transfer her husband to China, and was finally reunited with him after six years of separation. Just as the Baron estabished himself in Shanghai as a second-hand car dealer, the civil war broke out between the Communists and the Nationalists and the couple found themselves once again emboiled in war. They eventually had to leave and returned to South Africa in 1948. In 1951 Volkswagen in Germany appointed Baron von Oertzen as their representative in South Africa. He was instrumental in the early stages of negotiations to bring Volkswagen to South Africa, and was present at the historic signing in 1951 of the agreement between SAMAD and Volkswagenwerk to assemble Volkswagens in Uitenhage. When Volkswagenwerk took over a controlling interest in SAMAD in 1956, he became the chairman of the company, which eventually changed its name to Volkeswagen of South Afirca.
The Baroness in her later years divided her time between Johannesburg and Switzerland. She was a guest of honour at the opening of the AutoPavilion in 2004, where a Jagdwagen Kombi, the second Kombi ever to arrive in South Africa and used to belong to Baron von Oertzen, is on display.
PROPERTY OF THE LATE BARONESS IRENE VON OERTZEN SOLD BY THE ORDER OF THE EXECUTORS
S. Howard Hansford, Jade - Essence of Hills and Streams, Johannesburg 1969, no. A3, p. 32