Show­cas­ing SA beauty in the Foun­da­tion Col­lec­tion

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - BY JO­HAN MY­BURG

Two years are im­por­tant in the early his­tor y of the Jo­han­nes­burg Art Gallery ( JAG): 1910 and 1915. The first col­lec­tion of art works – the Foun­da­tion Col­lec­tion – was ex­hib­ited in Jo­han­nes­burg for the f irst time on 29 Novem­ber 1910, and five years later the im­pos­ing sand­stone mu­seum opened its doors, in Novem­ber 1915.

It was Hugh Lane, the man who put to­gether the first col­lec­tion, who nagged the fa­mous Bri­tish ar­chi­tect Sir Ed­win Lu­tyens to de­sign the art mu­seum.

Lu­tyens (1869-1944) was re­spon­si­ble for sev­eral build­ing projects in South Africa, but it was in In­dia that he made his mark. He was in­stru­men­tal in designing and build­ing a part of Delhi, now known as New-Delhi, good­na­turedly also known as Lu­tyens’ Delhi.

When JAG was opened in 1915, only the f irst phase of Lu­tyens’ de­sign had been com­pleted. Money was scarce a year af­ter the out­break of World War I, and the sec­ond phase, Lu­tyens’ eastern and west­ern wings, was only built in 1940.

In 1986 a new, north­ern façade was de­signed by the ar­chi­tects Meyer Pien­aar, which vir­tu­ally dou­bled the size of the ex­ist­ing build­ing.

A hun­dred years later and noth­ing is left of the open spa­ces of Jou­bert Park and its sur­rounds. JAG sits in the heart of the city – on the one side bor­dered by a set of rail­way lines and on the other three sides by high-rise apart­ment blocks of 10 or more storeys.

Through all the changes that took place over a pe­riod of 100 years, JAG has stood the test of time as a public in­sti­tu­tion that has ex­hib­ited mod­ern and later also con­tem­po­rary art. More tem­pered maybe than the ini­tial ideas of Florence Phillips, the driv­ing force be­hind t he estab­lish­ment of t his in­sti­tu­tion, who had the “up­lift­ment of the colo­nial philis­tine” in mind.

The col­lec­tion grew slowly over time. Who will re­call the up­roar when JAG in 1973 bought Pablo Pi­casso’s Tête d’ar­lequin II, 1971, a pas­tel and crayon drawing for R28 000 with the aid of the Friends of the Art Mu­seum? The city coun­cil do­nated a third of the price, and many Joburg­ers be­lieved that the money could have been bet­ter spent.

Apart from the joy JAG’s col­lec­tion


has brought thou­sands of vis­i­tors over the years, this col­lec­tion has in­creas­ingly drawn the at­ten­tion of for­eign­ers 100 years on.

To­day the ex­hi­bi­tion Mas­ter­pieces from Jo­han­nes­burg Art Gallery: from De­gas to Pi­casso kicks off in Pavia, south of Mi­lan in Italy.

A se­lec­tion of just un­der 80 works of art from the JAG col­lec­tion – among oth­ers those of Edgar De­gas, Gus­tave Courbet, Pierre Bon­nard, Henri Matisse, Au­guste Rodin, Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Pi­casso, as well as works by South African artists such as Irma Stern, Maud Sum­ner, Maggie Laub­ser and Ge­orge Pemba – will be ex­hib­ited in the Mu­sei Civici di Pavia un­til 19 July.

The city mu­seum of Pavia is lo­cated in the for­mer sta­bles of the Vis­conti cas­tle, which was built in 1360 in the Ital­ian Lom­bard-Gothic style.

The Ita l i an i nter­est de­vel­oped when this mu­seum ex­hib­ited a large col­lec­tion of Monet works in 2012, says Musha Neluheni, JAG’s cu­ra­tor for the con­tem­po­rary col­lec­tion, who was re­spon­si­ble for putting to­gether the Pavia ex­hi­bi­tion. “Through re­search they dis­cov­ered that JAG owned Spring, an early Monet. We lent them the paint­ing and the dis­cus­sions pro­gressed from there. They were ex­ited about our col­lec­tion and of­fered to hold an ex­hi­bi­tion over there,” says Neluheni.

“It’s won­der­ful ex­po­sure for JAG,” says An­toinette Mur­doch, JAG’s head cu­ra­tor. “Just lis­ten to the name of the ex­hi­bi­tion: Mas­ter­pieces from Jo­han­nes­burg Art Gallery: From De­gas to Pi­casso. They are go­ing big with JAG, with pub­lic­ity and enor­mous ban­ners. What won­der­ful ex­po­sure in Europe!”

Mu­sei Civici di Pavia will bear the costs of the ex­hi­bi­tion from pack­ag­ing, trans­port and in­sur­ance to the mar­ket­ing, cat­a­logues and pre­sen­ta­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion.

Mur­doch was in­vited to the open­ing, but Neluheni and Tara We­ber, JAG’s reg­is­trar, will travel with the works of art to Italy and also look af­ter them on the re­turn trip.

Be­fore the works of art are packed here in Jo­han­nes­burg and later again in Italy, their con­di­tion is thor­oughly checked by qual­i­fied con­ser­va­tors. Pho­to­graphs are taken of the works and a writ­ten re­port on the con­di­tion of ev­ery work of art

ac­com­pa­nies it to Italy.

When the packed works ar­rive in Italy, they are left un­touched for 24 hours to be­come ac­cli­ma­tised be­fore they are un­packed. They are again scru­ti­nised, based on the pho­to­graphs and re­ports.

If you take into ac­count what the works of art are worth, th­ese painstak­ing steps are quite un­der­stand­able. Forty years later, the Pi­casso is def initely worth more than the R28 000 paid for it in 1973.

This ven­ture costs mil­lions, says Neluheni and Mur­doch. “The in­sur­ance alone is as­tro­nom­i­cal,” is all they are pre­pared to say.

The Monet, which gave rise to this ex­hi­bi­tion, comes from JAG’s ini­tial col­lec­tion and was do­nated by Otto Beit. This is the piece that was ex­hib­ited in the Whitechapel Art Mu­seum in Lon­don in 1910 be­fore it was shipped to Jo­han­nes­burg. And it led to Bri­tish art crit­ics ask­ing: “Must we travel to the colonies to see good, mod­ern art?”

Dur­ing a visit to Bri­tain in 1909, Florence Phillips (1863-1940), the driv­ing force be­hind the art col­lec­tion and wife of the min­ing mag­nate Lionel Phillips, met Lane, the direc­tor of the Dublin City Mu­seum at the time. At the Phillips’ es­tate, she in­formed Lane of her plans to es­tab­lish an art and cul­ture cen­tre of in­ter­na­tional stan­dard on the Transvaal High­veld.

Her aim was to pur­chase old masters, and at the same time to stim­u­late in­ter­est in hand­i­crafts so that in­hab­i­tants of the City of Gold “could use their own skills and begin to ap­pre­ci­ate beauty”.

Lane was thor­oughly aware of the fact that the mar­ket for old masters was dom­i­nated by the Amer­i­cans and that th­ese works would be fright­fully ex­pen­sive. So he con­vinced her to rather con­cen­trate on the works of con­tem­po­rary artists.

Lane (1875-1915) died six months be­fore JAG opened when the Lusi­ta­nia was tor­pe­doed off the coast of Cork.

This ini­tial col­lec­tion of the Jo­han­nes­burg Art Mu­seum is the largest Lane ever col­lected and in­cluded works by lead­ing 19th cen­tury French and Bri­tish artists, as well as those of lesser known Euro­pean pain­ters. De­spite Lane be­liev­ing the works of Bri­tish artists were the best ex­am­ples of mod­ern art, he did not in­clude artists such as Turner and Constable in this col­lec­tion.

And now, 100 years l ater, th­ese works that were se­lected with great care are not only un­af­forable, but will grab your imag­i­na­tion.

Dante Gabriel Ros­setti (1828-1882), Regina Cordium (Queen of Hearts), 1860 (25.4 x 20.3cm), oil on panel.

Pablo Pi­casso (1881-1973), Tête d’ar­lequin, 1971 (50.2 x 65.2cm), pas­tel and crayon on pa­per. This work was pur­chased for R28 000 in 1973.

Maud Sum­ner (1902-1957), Por­trait of the artist, 1936 (79.8 x 64cm), oil on can­vas.

An­to­nio Mancini (1852-1930), Por­trait of Florence Phillips, 1909 (90.1 x 76.5 cm), oil on can­vas. Phillips was the driv­ing force be­hind the estab­lish­ment of JAG.

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), Por­trait of Mrs Van Muy­den, 1915 (43 x 25.6 cm), pen­cil on pa­per.

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