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South African Art

Gilfillan Scott-Berning has an interesting representation of the best known South African artistic names on the art online catalogue at any one time. A distinctive South Africa art form began to emerge at the end of the 18th Century focusing on the landscape and the people, forged not only by the quality of light, but also by the crucible of history. There has been an ancient art heritage in the sub-region which can still be viewed and enjoyed in the natural galleries that have survived in the various mountain ranges in the country. While this tradition has had its influence on various artists, it is the English and Dutch painting traditions that have had a greater impact on artistic style. New global ideas and new themes have always found their followers in local artists. Many of the styles overlap and represent a fusion of cultural movements and an acceptance of a divergence of material culture. But within these movements and trends, South African artists have provided art with South African subject matter and character.

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Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (1886 - 1957) was born in Pretoria the son of a builder; he received little formal training as a result of the financial constraints of his back ground. However, he was encouraged to paint from an early age by South African artists, Frans Oerder and Anton van Wouw. He worked for 10 years in the State Library before he accepted a position as an art lecturer at a Pretoria College in 1920. This position gave him the opportunity to focus on his art and in 1923 he decided to become a full-time painter. Pierneef's style presents a formalized and ordered view of the South African landscape, often monumental in its conception, uninhabited and influenced by the dramatic light and colour of the highveld. He accepted a number of government commissions and his work can be seen in many private, corporate and public collections.
George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba (1912 - 2001) grew up in the Eastern Cape, studied at Lovedale College and taught in King Williamstown for 5 years. During this time he illustrated books about African customs and traditions. In 1948 he resigned from his teaching job and held his first solo exhibition. He also moved from watercolour to oil painting. Pemba has been excluded from past assessments of South African art, but was included in the Johannesburg Art Gallery's 'Neglected Tradition' exhibition in 1988. A retrospective exhibition was held in 1996. Pemba was interested throughout his life in traditional culture. His paintings are noted for their excellent composition and their bold use of colour.
Gerard Sekoto (1913 - 1993) was born at Middleberg, Mpumalanga. He trained to become a teacher, but at the age of 25 he left for Johannesburg to become an artist. He lived with relatives in Sophiatown, a township outside Johannesburg. Life in Sophiatown provided him with his subject matter - he painted urban images of active scenes in the community in bold colours in an expressionist style. In 1940 the Johannesburg Art Gallery purchased one of his pictures and this was to be the first picture painted by a black artist to enter a museum collection. In 1942 he moved to Cape Town and in 1945 to Pretoria. In 1947 he left South Africa to live for the rest of his life in Paris. In 1989 the Johannesburg Art Gallery honoured him with a retrospective exhibition and the University of Witwatersrand with an honorary doctorate.
Helen Mmakgoba Mmapula Sebidi (1943 - ) grew up with her grandmother in a village near Hammanskraal north of Pretoria. Her grandmother followed Tswana customs closely, but also decorated wall with mural art in the Ndebele tradition. Helen received a limited education and in 1959 she sought work in Johannesburg. She became a dressmaker. In 1970 she established contact with fellow township artists, but returned to her birthplace in 1975 for eight years. Her artwork reflected this rural environment. In 1986 an exhibition of her work was held at the FUBA Gallery in Newtown, Johannesburg, and consequently was introduced to the Johannesburg Art Foundation. This resulted in a new experimental phase in her art which became a dense collage of animals and humans influenced by her ancestral roots. In 1988 she taught at the Alexandra Art Centre, Johannesburg and in 1989 she was the honoured recipient of South Africa's highest artistic accolade, the Standard Bank Artists Award.
Gerard Bengu/Bhengu (1910 - 1990) grew up in southern Natal at the Mariannhill Monastery's Centecow outpost. His family was Catholic and he attended the mission school to Standard 5. His aptitude for drawing had been noticed and this was encouraged by Dr Kohler who provided him with a studio at Centecow between 1926 and 1931. The Department of Education provided him with a Studio at Edendale while he provided illustrations for Zulu textbooks. His early work focused on realistic portrayals of rural Bhaca life and culture. In 1938 Bengu decided to become a full-time artist and moved to Durban. Various patrons supported him while in Durban including the art supplier P W Story and the department story Payne Bros. It was difficult earning a living from art in the 1940s and 1950s; consequently, he lived in Durban's shack land, Cato Manor. He frequently did not have enough money to work in colour so produced sepia wash character studies, his favourite being of old men and young children.
Gilfillan Scott-Berning frequently has the work of other well-known South African artists featured in their online catalogue. Artists such as Hugo Naude (1869 - 1941), Pieter Wenning (1873 - 1921), Maggie Laubscher (1886 - 1973), Irma Stern (1894 - 1966), Willem Hermanus Coetzer (1900 - 1938), Gregoire Boonzaier (1909 - ), Maud Sumner (1902 - 1985), Walter Batiss (1906 - 1982) to mention but a few as examples. We are always pleased to be able to provide valuations for those keen to sell South African paintings.

Click Here to view what South African Art we have in our current catalogue.

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