• Thumbnail for Pierneef, JH

    Pierneef, JH

    Dr. Anton Hendriks, a contemporary of Pierneef and director of the Johannesburg Art Gallery from 1937-64, stated that Pierneef had become the definitive South African painter: “Pierneef painted Africa. His landscapes were different from anything seen in paint before. Baines, Oerder and others had painted the same scenes, but Pierneef saw them with new eyes. He created an original style out of this new subject matter”. Full Biography

  • Thumbnail for Stern, Irma

    Stern, Irma

    Irma Stern (1894 - 1966) is considered to be one of South Africa’s most important artists who achieved both national and international acclaim during her lifetime. With her German Expressionist background, she introduced the highly conservative South African society to Modernism during the 1920’s and managed to shift the prevailing perceptions about art over the following four decades.
    Full Biography

  • Thumbnail for Sekoto, Gerard

    Sekoto, Gerard

    Gerard Sekoto (1913 - 1993) is undoubtedly one of the pioneers of modern South African art. He wrote that “Art is a human virtue and I have given my whole self to it, for it promotes understanding amongst races rather than destroy it.” Sekoto spent much of his life away from his roots, tirelessly in search of that experience and inspiration that would make him a better, more sensitive, more insightful artist. His quest took him from the rural Transvaal to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and ultimately Paris – ignoring possible difficulties or danger. Lesley Spiro writes that Sekoto’s work provides us “with the most intimate reflection of these travels and yet in many ways it suggests that he never left at all, for South Africa remained the dominant image in his paintings”, its essence reverberating throughout his oeuvre of work.
    Full Biography

  • Thumbnail for Laubser, Maggie

    Laubser, Maggie

    Maggie Laubser’s expressionistic paintings do not attempt to portray reality. They should always be appreciated as a personal expression of her unique view of the harmony of colours and forms in, as she called it, ‘the miracle of creation’. Her paintings have often been criticised for being naïve and childlike, but these critics miss the spiritual undertone of her work, where she strives to celebrate and praise the harmonious qualities of the Earth, and all life on it, under a benevolent Creator. She is quoted in a 1939 interview, as saying that ‘The privilege of bearing witness to these things in my simple way deeply satisfies me’. Full Biography

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    Naudé, Hugo

    Hugo Naudé (1868 - 1941) was South Africa’s pioneer impressionist painter. Born and raised in the Boland town of Worcester, Naudé became South Africa’s first professional artist, establishing “Cape Impressionism”, an adaptation of European Impressionism, in conjunction with the artists Pieter Wenning, Nita Spilhaus, Ruth Prowse and Strat Caldecott. He received his professional art education at the Slade School of Fine Art in London (1889 – 1890) and the Kunst Akademie in Munich (1890 – 1894) and spent a year amongst the Barbizon painters in Fontainebleau near Paris. Full Biography

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    Wenning, Pieter

    Pieter Willem Frederik Wenning was born in The Hague, Southern Holland, to a family with long artistic associations: Boonzaier and Lipschitz write of his family that, “for many generations one or other member had been either a practicing artist or a dealer in artists’ materials”. He began to develop a passion for painting from an early age; the availability of art materials and prints from his father’s shop and contact with his cousin Ype Wenning, a well known Frisian painter, were contributing factors. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Sumner, Maud

    Sumner, Maud

    Maud Sumner was a highly gifted and sensitive artist; in the words of Ridley Beeton, a person of “infinite variety”. Sumner’s oeuvre includes painting, drawing, poetry and writing. Beeton explains that in her poem “Afterwards”, written in the latter years of her life, she reveals her concern with the quality and standing of her work and whether or not it held sufficient meaning to her existence. She is considered one of the most international of South Africa’s artists, due to her experience of French, English and South African life.
    Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Pemba, George

    Pemba, George

    Despite years of adversity and poverty, George Pemba’s painting career spanned six decades - providing a visual history of what he had witnessed in a transforming South Africa. He had established himself as a pioneer of social realism, taking his inspiration from the realities and struggles of urban black people’s everyday life in a troubled South Africa. Full Biography

  • Thumbnail for Boonzaier, Gregoire

    Boonzaier, Gregoire

    Gregoire Boonzaier was born in Newlands, Cape Town in 1909. He was the son of the political cartoonist, DC Boonzaier and benefited from the close contact with his fathers artist friends who included Pieter Wenning, Nita Spilhaus and Moses Kottler, the sculptor. Gregoire was in fact given his first paint box by Kottler in 1922, and received an easel from Nita Spilhaus in 1926. DC Boonzaier was strongly opposed to formal art training and Gregoire forwarded his initial studies through association with these early Cape Impressionist painters.
    Full Biography

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    Battiss, Walter

    Walter Battiss is best described by Karin Skawran: “In his life and in his work the artist rejected conformity and challenged every kind of boundary – creative, academic, political, cultural, spiritual. His vision and artistic approach shifted continually, and his enquiring mind embraced life in all its facets. A ‘gentle anarchism’ consistently runs through his life and work.” Battiss maintained: “In conforming I am wasting a hell of a lot of time…this ritual of conforming often gives people a certain security…And I like living in insecurity.” Full Biography

  • Thumbnail for Preller, Alexis

    Preller, Alexis

    The art of Alexis Preller (1911 - 1975) is best described by Esmé Berman: “Perhaps the earliest and the best-known Preller theme is that woven out of the mystique of Africa. From his observations of tribal life and ritual, from the inscrutable surviving ruins, fetishes and symbols, from the art of the primeval past, he spun a myth awakening a forgotten tribe and called up visions of its origins and gods.”

    Preller’s vast imaginative capacity and his artistic genius were fused into a highly individual style which can not be classified under any of the established art movements of the 20th century. As one of Africa’s leading modern artists, he regarded his objects and style as the metaphors and vehicle he needed to communicate his vision and not as an end in itself. Full Biography

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    Welz, Jean

    Esmé Berman (1996:494) describes Jean Welz’s career as “a solitary adventure, unrelated to surrounding trends and fashions. There is nothing of Africa imprinted on his paintings, there is little that is truly modern, even in his abstract style. It is the delicate balance between reason and emotion, the impeccable technique and the additives of sensitivity and meditative insight which permitted him to pursue a path outside the main line of SA artistic development and yet retain widespread regard as one of the country’s most distinguished artists.” Full biography

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    Domsaitis, Pranas

    The son of a peasant farmer, Franz Domscheit was born on 15 August 1880 in Kropinas, on the edge of the Baltic, into the rural Lithuanian culture of East Prussia. Growing up in this environment, the prevailing traditions and peasant religious sentiment had a formative influence on his artistic development, style and subject matter. Domsaitis was an artist influenced by the cultures of two peoples living next to each other – the Germans and the Lithuanians – and affected by the two World Wars which occurred during his lifetime. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Laubscher, Erik

    Laubscher, Erik

    Experiencing the landscape is a spiritual experience for Erik Laubscher. His paintings become the poetic language of his emotions – the experience of his reaction to the vastness and varying contrasts of the South African landscape. He transforms lines, shapes, colours and textures to unify them into ordered structures. In this way he identifies with the emotional force of the landscape in order to capture his experience of it in an image. The final result is a celebration of the magnitude and expansiveness of the land.
    Full Biography

    Erik Laubscher, Jacobus Kloppers & Walter Meyer

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    van Essche, Maurice

    Maurice van Essche was born in 1906 in Antwerp, Belgium, moving to Brussels with his family when he was five years old. In 1924 he studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Art under James Ensor. Although he interrupted his studies at the Academy in order to earn a living, working in a stained-glass studio and later in wallpaper design, he painted continuously, and also worked as a freelance cartoonist. Full biography

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    Coetzee, Christo

    “Coetzee was always searching for magical and transcendental moments while extending the perceptions of art. As he recalled, he endeavoured ‘to push the imagination … just a little bit more towards that particular interface where Art becomes something that it is not.’” (Stevenson & Viljoen, 2001) Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Volschenk, JEA

    Volschenk, JEA

    Volschenk’s subject matter was his home landscape - the Langeberg mountain range with its rocky peaks, the yellow-green shrubs and veld with the pink Cape heath and bright aloes. He painted the farms and scenes of the nearby river, sometimes venturing further to Stilbaai, Knysna, George and Worcester.
    Full Biography

  • Thumbnail for Oerder, Frans

    Oerder, Frans

    Frans David Oerder was born in Rotterdam, Holland in 1867; one of seven children. Although his father was not pleased with Oerder’s choice of art as a career, he was allowed to begin a six-year course in Decorating at the Rotterdam Academy of Art (Berman, 1996). He completed the course in five years, graduating in 1885 and winning the King William III Gold Medal bursary. Upon graduation he toured Italy, and thereafter continued his art studies in Brussels under Ernest Blanc-Garin. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for van Wouw, Anton

    van Wouw, Anton

    The establishment of a Western sculptural tradition in South Africa can largely be attributed to the work of Anton van Wouw. Besides the work of the 18th century German sculptor Anton Anreith, who worked at the Cape from 1783 until 1822, a Western European sculptural tradition had not been established in South Africa at the time of Van Wouw’s arrival (Duffey, 2008). After his emigration to South Africa, he quickly established himself as the foremost sculptor of both monumental public works and smaller bronze sculptures in his adopted country. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Goodman, Gwelo

    Goodman, Gwelo

    Robert Goodman was born in Taplow, England in 1871, and his family moved to South Africa in 1886. At the age of 20, he began his art studies by taking evening classes in Cape Town under J.S. Morland, who remained a close friend and mentor throughout his life. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Jentsch, Adolph

    Jentsch, Adolph

    Adolph Jentsch was born in Dresden, Germany in 1888, to a well-educated family that encouraged his interest in the arts. Jentsch studied at the Staatsakademie für Bildende Kunste in Dresden, under Gussmann, Zwunscher and Kühl. At the academy, he was acquainted with George Grosz and Max Pechstein, along with a number of other young artists who later would become founders of modernist art movements around Germany. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Spilhaus, Nita

    Spilhaus, Nita

    Pauline Augusta Wilhelmina “Nita” Spilhaus was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1878, and was raised by her grandfather in Lübeck, Germany after losing both her parents as an infant. She gained the essentials of drawing and etching by studying at the Lübeck School of Art, the Kunst Akademie in Munich, and the Thanlow Swedish Painting School in Paris. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Prowse, Ruth

    Prowse, Ruth

    Ruth Prowse (1883 - 1967) was born in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape. Her early years were spent on a farm on the slopes of Devils Peak in Cape Town with her English immigrant parents. Between the years of 1902 and 1908, Ruth spent her time studying abroad at various institutions, namely the Slade School and Royal Academy in London and La Palette in Paris. Upon her return to South Africa in 1908, she began to teach art in Cape Town. Full Biography

  • Thumbnail for Higgs, Cecil

    Higgs, Cecil

    Cecil Higgs’ childhood was filled with the dust storms, locust swarms and infinite blue sky of the Orange Free State, which provided life-long inspiration for her work. She was born in Thaba ‘Nchu, in June of 1898, although it appears this fact was in question, as many older sources claim she was born in 1900. Like most farm girls at that time, Higgs’ education would likely have started at home with all the necessary lessons for girls, including some painting, probably in watercolour. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Esmonde-White, Eleanor

    Esmonde-White, Eleanor

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

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    Rose-Innes, Alexander

    Born in 1915 in Beauford West, Alexander Rose-Innes developed an aptitude for drawing at an early age. The Rose-Innes family moved to Port Elizabeth in 1927, where he began his art studies at the Art School of the Port Elizabeth Technical College, under Francis Pickford and Jack Heath. After completing his studies, he enrolled as an apprentice sign-writer, continuing to pursue his art in his free time. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for van Heerden, Piet

    van Heerden, Piet

    Piet van Heerden (1917 - 1991) is considered a typical exponent of ‘Cape Impressionism’. The early Cape Impressionists drew their influences from European Impressionism and the works of artists such as Pieter Wenning, Hugo Naudé and Nita Spilhaus show how their personal styles were adapted to suit South African conditions. Full Biography

  • Thumbnail for Theys, Conrad

    Theys, Conrad

    Conrad Theys was born in Montagu in the Little Karoo in 1940. He grew up in Loeriesfontein in the Northern Cape, and completed his studies as a teacher at Bridgeton Training College, Oudtshoorn, in 1961. Theys studied under the well-known artist Gregoire Boonzaier from 1960 to 1970. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for McCaw, Terence

    McCaw, Terence

    Terence McCaw’s paintings contributed to the Cape Impressionist tradition, with his landscape paintings showing distinct influences by some of its early proponents like Pieter Wenning. Full Biography

  • Thumbnail for Krige, François

    Krige, François

    François Krige was born in July 1913, in Uniondale near Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo. He was the fourth of six children, and his was a well-known family; his father was a famous rugby player, his mother a renowned novelist, and his brother Uys a celebrated writer. In 1927 Krige began his studies at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town. After two years he moved to Johannesburg to join Uys, who was writing for the Rand Daily Mail, and was immersed in the world of arts and literature. With the encouragement and support of his brother, Krige continued to take art classes and to sketch and paint in Johannesburg. He exhibited three works in the annual South African exhibition in 1933, before leaving for Europe in 1934 to further his art studies. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Botha, David

    Botha, David

    David Botha is considered to be a second generation follower of Cape Impressionism, continuing the stylistic tradition that was established by Naudé, Wenning and Spilhaus. His most sought after works are his paintings of the typical Cape winter and ‘wet street’ scenes – usually painted on site in Paarl and Stellenbosch. These oil paintings are typically filled with white-washed houses and dark, bare oak trees outlined in black and etched against a grey winter sky - a characteristic often adopted by the Cape Impressionists. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Mayer, Erich

    Mayer, Erich

    Ernst Karl Mayer was born in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1876. In 1894 he was awarded a bursary to study architecture at Charlottenburg Technische Hochschule in Berlin, but had to discontinue his studies due to ill health in 1896. Mayer moved to South Africa in 1898, seeking a better climate for his health. He took up employment as Assistant Land-Surveyor in the Orange Free State, and a year later joined to Boer side in the Anglo-Boer War. Full biography

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  • Thumbnail for Bhengu, Gerard

    Bhengu, Gerard

    Phyllis Savory in Gerard Bhengu: Zulu Artist (1965: 6-10) writes:

    Gerard Bhengu’s life began on the 6th day of September, in the year 1910, […] in the Southern region of Natal. His Christian parents gave him the European name of Gerard, although it is by his Bantu surname (or isibongo) of Bhengu, that he is more widely known in his homeland, today. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Maqhubela, Louis

    Maqhubela, Louis

    Louis Khehla Maqhubela was born in Durban in 1939. Between 1955 and 1959 he attended the Orlando High School and 1959 he won the second prize in an art competition organised by the Rembrandt group. One of his paintings was included in the second exhibition of Artists of fame and promise in 1959. He studied part-time under Cecil Skotnes at Jubilee centre in Johannesburg, the Polly Street Art Centre. During the following years he participated in several group exhibitions and in 1966 he won first prize in the last exhibition Artists of Fame and Promise which was a trip to Europe. This trip in 1966 gave him a chance to observe, study and meet other artists including the South African expatriate Douglas Portway, Portway who greatly impressed him and was to influence his work. He began to use oil paints, often on paper, and began a series of small semi abstract linear figurations using dark tones and vivid flashes of pure colour. Maqhubela was drawn back to Europe in 1973, he settled first in Spain and later, in 1978, he settled in London. He attended the Goldsmith College in 1984 - 85 and from 1985 - 88 the Slade School of Art where he gained a Post Graduate Diploma in Printmaking.

    Full Biography

  • Thumbnail for Villa, Edoardo

    Villa, Edoardo

    Edoardo Daniele Villa was born in the village of Redona, on the outskirts of Bergamo, Italy in 1915. He studied the basic techniques of sculpture at the Scuola d’Arte Andrea Fantoni, under the sculptors Minotti, Lodi and Barbieri. As a young artist, he completed a number of public commissions for reliefs in his home town. Villa was about to continue his art studies in Milan when he was called up for two years of military service. He asked to be stationed in Rome, which gave him the opportunity to view the numerous public sculptures on display throughout the city (Von Maltitz and Nel, 2005). Full biography

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  • Thumbnail for Skotnes, Cecil

    Skotnes, Cecil

    Cecil Skotnes was born in 1926, the son of missionaries. Edwin Eilertson and Florence Kendall had married and taken the name the name Skotnes from Edwin’s home farm in Norway. As officers in the Salvation Army they travelled to Canada and then to Africa where they worked in Mozambique, eventually finding their way to East London where Cecil was born. At first they thought to call him Stanley Livingston, but decided in favour of Cecil Edwin Frans Eilertson Skotnes. He was their fourth child and the last to survive to adulthood. His sisters were Olive Jean Maple Leaf and Dorothy Ivy and his brother was Arthur. Nine years later they left the Eastern Cape, stopping for a time in Kroonstad and then settling on the reef.
    Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Hlungwani, Jackson

    Hlungwani, Jackson

    The son of a Shangaan migrant worker, Jackson Mbhazima Hlungwani was born in Nkanyani Village, Gazankulu, in 1923. His father taught him how to carve household objects, sharpen tools and work with iron (Coates, 2010). He herded cattle as a child, and the time spent in the veld offered him the perfect opportunity to observe animals, birds and fish. Full biography

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    Kumalo, Sydney

    Sydney Alex Kumalo was born on 13 April 1935 in Johannesburg, and educated at Madibane High School, in Diepkloof, Soweto. Kumalo enrolled at Polly Street Art Centre in 1953, and became a member of Cecil Skotnes’ group of serious artists who were encouraged to acquire professional skills. Skotnes introduced a basic training programme with modelling as a component, which marked the introduction of sculpting (in brick-clay) at Polly Street. Full biography

  • Thumbnail for Legae, Ezrom

    Legae, Ezrom

    Ezrom Legae is best known for his powerful visual commentaries on the pathos and degradation of apartheid - a critique he extended to the persistence of poverty and racism in the post-apartheid years. He studied under Cecil Skotnes and Sydney Kumalo at the Polly Street Art Centre from 1959 to 1964. The training Legae received from Kumalo, and the stylistic influences gleaned from fellow students at Polly Street, such as Ben Arnold, Ephraim Ngatane, and Louis Maqhubela, resulted in his fusion of classical African and modernistic styles. Working in a neo-African idiom, as Elza Miles terms it, he applied these influences in his sculpture, to shape and interpret observations from life.


  • Thumbnail for Ngatane, Ephraim

    Ngatane, Ephraim

    Ephraim Ngatane (1938 - 1971) documented township life in all it forms - from the overcrowded living conditions to the social entertainment, sport and memorable events like the two occasions it snowed in Johannesburg during the 1960’s. As an accomplished jazz alto-saxophonist, he also painted lively music and dance scenes, where his individual style of abstraction managed to successfully capture the energy and movement. Stylistically, his masterful command of the watercolour medium displays a painterly sense of abstraction which distinguishes his work from the descriptive styles of most other township artists. Full Biography

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    Feni, Dumile

    Dumile Feni remains an enigma in South African art: an artist held in high regard premised on a mere fraction of his oeuvre. The limited knowledge of his art derives primarily from the few major works that were acquired by South African Museums in the mid 1960s before he left South Africa in 1968. Biographical essay

    Dumile Feni 1968 Drawings

  • Thumbnail for Koboka, Welcome

    Koboka, Welcome

    Mandla Welcome Koboka was born in Johannesburg in 1941, where he also died in 1997. Never achieving great commercial success, Koboka is a little known painter whose work is rarely seen but deserves recognition as one of the pioneering modernists in South African post-war abstraction. Full Biography

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    Baker, Kenneth

    An impressionist in style and inclination, Kenneth Baker always filled his work with people he could relate to and characters he understood intimately. Painted with the utmost compassion, the working class subjects of his paintings became real people with real problems, often unable to extricate themselves from the vicious cycle of poverty, despair and degradation.Full Biography