Eleanor Esmonde-White (1914 - 2007)

Eleanor Frances Esmonde-White was born in 1914 in Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal, where she received her early education. She began her art studies at the University of Natal in 1932, and was granted a scholarship to continue studying at the Royal College of Art in London from 1935 to 1936. While in London she and Le Roux Smith Le Roux worked on a commission to decorate the walls of the new South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square. Following the completion of the mural and her art studies, Esmonde-White received the Herbert Baker Scholarship to study mural painting in London.

She returned to South Africa in 1938, and joined the New Group that same year – she would remain part of the Group until 1954. In 1949 Esmonde-White took up a position lecturing design at the Michaelis School of Fine Art where she taught for 12 years. She had her first solo exhibition in Cape Town in 1952, after which she had several exhibitions around South Africa and internationally. That same year she was honoured with the Cape Tercentenary Foundation Award for Design.

Eleanor Esmonde-White is known for her focus on women as her primary subject matter, as well as for her modest colour palette. She was a painter, graphic artist and muralist who enjoyed painting scenes of women engaged in daily tasks. While at the Michaelis School of Design, Esmonde-White decorated some walls with the help of her students. Besides her lecturing position she continued painting, and also carried out a number of public commissions – from a mosaic for the Cape Province Library in 1952, to a tapestry for the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town in 1977.

David Zetler is quoted in the South African Art Times: First and foremost [Esmonde-White] was a brilliant graphic artist – a great draughtsman. Everything she did was structurally sound and this translated into her oils and her woodcuts in particular, which are exceptionally sought after.

Eleanor Esmonde-White passed away at 93 years of age, on 2 January, 2007.


Ogilvie, G. (1988). The Dictionary of South African Painters and Sculptors. Everard Read: Johannesburg, 212-213

South African Art Times (2007). ‘Eleanor Esmonde-White the passing of an inspiring, graceful woman artist.’
(January) http://www.arttimes.co.za/news_read.php?news_id=712

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