His cultural contributions will be fondly remembered by all
THE well-known cultural historian and preservation activist Dr Hans Fransen died in Cape Town at the age of 86. In recent years he and his wife Marie Anneen Van Zyl, whom he married in 1966, have been cared for in Huis Nuweland in Newlands .
Hans was born in 1931 in Amsterdam, Holland, where he studied architecture. Before completing his studies he moved to Cape Town. Here he obtained his BA Art History degree (Unisa, 1968) and his PhD in Art History (University of Natal, 1981), while working at a number of organisations. From 1962 he settled in the museum and art world and worked as acting curator of the Michaelis Collection (1962-64), curator of the Stellenbosch Museum (1965-69) and Groot Constantia (1970-74), and assistant director of the SA National Gallery (1975-80).
He moved to Pietermaritzburg in 1980 where he was a senior lecturer in Art History until 1989. Here he also got involved in politics and was one of the founding members of the Liberal Party of SA. In 1990 he returned to Cape Town and worked here as a very active and popular director of the Michaelis Collection, Greenmarket Square.
In this function he compiled at least 30 exhibition catalogues and brochures and contributed numerous articles for specialised journals. His regular columns in Kultuurkroniek of Die Burger were very popular and widely read.
He is especially known for his important books on art and architecture. His magnum opus undoubtedly is his The Old Houses of the Cape (with Mary Cooks), Balkema, 1969. In this publication more than 5 700 important old building are described in detail. The book has over 700 illustrations and photos, many of which Hans took himself. He told me that he travelled at least 25 000km by car and 5 000km on his bicycle to gather information for this book.
Another outstanding publication is his Old Towns and Villages of the Cape (2005), the first comprehensive description of some 1 000 older Cape towns, villages and hamlets of the former Cape Colony, again with numerous illustrations and photos, many of which were taken by himself. His fertile oeuvre was concluded by a book on Eric Laubscher and one on Cape baroque art, published in 2014.
Hans was very active and popular in art circles and was a productive member, committee member or chairperson of many art, cultural and preservation societies, such as the Simon van der Stel Foundation, the Vernacular Architecture Society, the SA Museum Association and the VOC Foundation. Until recently he also served on the Board of the Van Ewijck Foundation. In all the functions he contributed and shared his knowledge in his own charming, intelligent and humoristic way. While in charge of the Michaelis Collection, the then Department of Cultural Affairs, inspired by the apartheid philosophy, split up all cultural organisations under its control into Own and General Affairs Sections. The Michaelis Collection was then moved to Own (white) Affairs, to the consternation of its director. Fortunately this hilarious situation did not last long.
Hans also excelled as sportsman: he was proud of having completed a number of Comrades Marathons and several local cycle tours, many with his daughter Karin. He also had a wide knowledge of classical music and seldom missed concerts of the Cape Symphony Orchestra.
His great cultural achievements did not remain unnoticed. In 1984 he received the honorary medal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation; in 1993 the Cape Times Preservation Award; in 2001 a Knighthood in the Royal Dutch Order of OranjeNassou; in 2008 an honorary doctorate of Stellenbosch University and in 2016 the Silver Medal of the VOC Foundation.
Everybody who has known Hans Fransen, either personally or through his important cultural contribution, will dearly miss him. He is survived by his wife Anneen, daughter Karin and husband, and two grandchildren.
Westra is a retired librarian and has a small publishing firm