Frederik Bester Howard (Erik) Laubscher

(1927 - 2013)

About

Born in Tulbagh in the Western Cape, Erik Laubscher aspired to a life as an artist from a young age. However, these ambitions were hindered by several financial constraints in his early life, but ultimately his creative fervor and driving passion for art has led Laubscher to become one of South Africa’s leading artists and most admired art teachers.

Beginning his formal studies at the Continental School of Art in Cape Town under Maurice van Essche, Laubscher was also able to travel to Europe in 1948 to further his studies at the Anglo-French Art Centre in London under John Milton and Claude Vernard. This was followed by a year at the Académie Montmartre in Paris under Fernand Léger between 1950 and 1951.

On Laubscher’s return to South Africa he married Claude Bouscharain and soon had two children. He quickly found himself with the responsibility of a family to provide for, although he was able to find a teaching post alongside artist Alfred Krenz in Stellenbosch and soon after became the Head of the Continental School of Art, changing its name to the Contemporary School of Art. Finding a forum in which to spread the contemporary and modernist ideals and techniques which were being practiced in Europe, these new conventions instantly separated Laubscher from the established style of Impressionism that was followed in South Africa. His fresh and avant-guard approaches to painting were influenced strongly by Léger and his European contemporaries. Laubscher focused on the contrasting qualities of vibrant colours and dynamic compositions which he taught to the students in his school. Although due to financial shortfalls, the school was forced to close.

Laubscher found other employment as a traveling salesman for a wall-paint company, which greatly hampered the time he had to devote to art-making. In terms of compensation, however, it allowed Laubscher to develop a more discerning view of the South African landscape. Aspects of the local countryside were introduced into his works, allowing his compositional style to evolve. In the early 1960s Laubscher’s distinctive and engaging compositions comprised of the simplified, abstract shapes which he extracted from the surrounding natural terrain. He was still at this time producing several significant still lifes works, but his main focus was on landscapes.

In 1966 Laubscher was awarded a grant which enabled him to study in America for a few months. At this time the Cape Town art world was undergoing a significant transition and different forms of artistic experimentation were more readily accepted. Despite these new receptions, Laubscher still wished to be exposed to the different developments in international movements. He returned to South Africa with two distinctive new ideals. Stylistically he implemented a harder edge to the outlines in his works which was influenced by his latest inferences abroad. He also returned with a renewed and accented view of the South African approach to art, convinced that South African artists must look internally for inspiration and develop independently from foreign art influences. This in turn would create a distinctive and inimitable South African style, especially in relation to the portrayal of the landscape itself, which he felt was a unique feature that should be rigorously explored.

By 1970 Laubscher’s time to devote to his art-making was pressed due to his commitments as a teacher and spokesperson, gallery administrator and organizer. His presence in the South African art world was prominently recognised. However, this was a watershed for Laubscher, as he finally dedicated himself entirely to art. The following years saw another change in his painting style which became more gestural and showed thicker impasto paint applications, which moved closer to the figurative and further away from abstraction.

Laubscher’s artistic involvement publically continued and in 1980 he founded and chaired the Artists’ Guild in Cape Town. In 1981 Laubscher became the only artist appointed as a member of the Presidential Commission of Enquiry into the Creative Arts. Laubscher’s influence from his international exposure coupled with his engaging with South African topography has made Laubscher one of the most important South African artists.

  • Chronology

    1927

    Born in Tulbagh, Western Cape on the 3rd of February

    1932

    Family moves to Queenstown

    1935

    Family moves to Port Elizabeth

    1941

    Enrolls at Queen’s College, Queenstown

    1945

    Completes Matric

    1946

    Accepted at London School of Architecture, but decides to study with Maurice van Essche in Cape Town

    1947

    Studies in London under portraitist Frank Slater, RA

    1948

    Studies at the Anglo-French Art Centre, London

    1949

    Returns to South African for six months

    1950

    Studies in Paris at the Academie Montmartre

    Meets Claude Bouscharain

    1951

    Returns to Cape Town

    Marries Claude Bouscharain

    1952

    Moves into no.6 Cheviot Place

    Teaches with Alfred Krenz in Stellenbosch

    1953

    Takes over the Continental (renamed Contemporary) School of Art

    Joins the New Group

    1955

    Contemporary School of Art has to close, starts working as colour consultant for G.C. Shave, then for Sam Newman

    Joins Western Cape committee and national executive South African Association of Art

    1960

    Joins Nasionale Boekhandel to head artists’ material department

    1961

    Chairman South African Association of Arts (Western Cape)

    Colour consultant for Plascon Paints

    1964

    Changes from oils to acrylics

    1965

    Founder member of the Artists’ Gallery

    National vice-president of the South African Association of Arts

    1966

    Awarded Carnegie grant and undertakes study tour to the United States

    1968

    Founder committee member Friends of the South African National Gallery

    1969

    Director Cape Town Art Centre

    1970

    Committee member National Art Teachers Association

    Founder and principal of Ruth Prowse Art Centre

    1971

    Convener Republic Festival exhibition

    Co-selector São Paulo Biennale

    Reverts to oil paints

    1972

    Awarded Cape Arts Medal by South African Association of Arts

    1973

    Trip to Namibia

    Art critic: To the Point

    1975

    Ruth Prowse Art Centre becomes School of Art

    1977

    Tour of Europe

    Visits Namaqualand

    1978

    Trustee Michaelis Collection

    Trips to Koue Bokkeveld

    1979

    Co-founder of the Artists’ Guild

    1980

    Chairman of the Artists’ Guild

    Founder member the Cape Arts Forum

    1981

    Member of the Schutte Commission

    1982

    Member of the selection panel of the first Cape Triennial

    1987

    Trustee South African National Gallery

    1990

    Awarded Medal of Honour by Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns

    1996

    Retires as Principle of Ruth Prowse Art Centre

    2009

    Achieves highest price at auction for a living South African

  • Studies

    1946

    Continental School of Art, Cape Town, under Maurice van Essche

    1947-49

    Studied portrait drawing under Frank Slater RA in London

    Attended the Anglo-French Art Centre, St Johns Wood, London

    1950-51

    Academie Montmartre, Paris under Fernand Leger

  • Exhibitions

    1947

    Solo exhibition at Garlick’s Gallery, Port Elizabeth

    1949

    Exhibits two paintings for the 2nd Young Contemporaries exhibition, London

    Solo exhibition at Fogarty’s Bookshop, Port Elizabeth

    Solo exhibition, ID Booksellers, Cape Town

    1951

    Solo exhibition at South African Association of Art, Argus Gallery

    1952

    Joint exhibition with Paul du Toit at South African Association of Art

    Group exhibition, van Riebeek Festival

    1953

    Solo exhibition, Gallery Vincent, Pretoria

    Joins and exhibits with the New Group

    1954

    Two paintings selected for Venice Biennale

    1956

    Work selected for Venice Biennale

    1957

    Work selected for South African entry to São Paulo Biennale

    Solo exhibition, Geneva

    1958

    Withdraws entry for Venice Biennale

    1959

    With Albert Newall helps arrange non-governmental entry to São Paulo Biennale, his own work included

    Solo exhibition, South African Association

    Solo exhibition, Edrich Gallery, Stellenbosch

    1961

    First Johannesburg solo exhibition, Gallery 101

    1962

    Contributes to Cape Salon exhibition, South African Association of Art

    1963

    Solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg

    1964

    Successful solo exhibition, Strand Galleries, Cape Town

    1965

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Art

    1967

    Solo exhibition, Wolpe Gallery, Cape Town

    1968

    One of seven artists to participate in South African exhibition, Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon

    1970

    First Retrospective exhibition, University of Stellenbosch

    1978

    Joint exhibition (with June te Water), South African Association of Art – Sold Out

    1981

    Republic Festival, Durban

    Solo exhibition, University of Stellenbosch

    1983

    Joint exhibition (with Maureen Langley), Gallery International, Cape Town

    1985

    “Kuns uit die Kaap” exhibition, Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg

    1988

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Art

    Work represented on New Group exhibition, South African National Gallery, Cape Town

    1990

    Joint exhibition (with Claude Bouscharain), Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg

    1993

    Solo exhibition, Stellenbosch

    1994

    Retrospective exhibition, University of Stellenbosch

    1998

    Featured artist: Oudtshoorn Festival

    Participates in exhibition “LewendeKunstenaars 70+”, Bellville

    2003

    Solo exhibition of recent work, Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town

    2004

    Joint exhibition (with Jacobus Kloppers and Walter Meyer), Johans Borman Fine Art Gallery, Cape Town

    2007

    Work represented in exhibition “Abstract South African Art from the Isolation Years: Part 1” at SMAC Art Gallery, Stellenbosch

    Work represented in exhibition “Is there Still Life?” at Iziko Michaelis Collection

    2008

    Work represented in exhibition “Abstract South African Art from the Isolation Years: Part 2” at SMAC Art Gallery, Stellenbosch

    2009

    Work represented in exhibition “Art the Inspires” at Johans Borman Fine Art Gallery, Cape Town

    Work represented in exhibition “Abstract South African Art from the Isolation Years: Part 3” at SMAC Art Gallery, Stellenbosch

  • Collections

    Museums & Public Collections – South Africa

    • Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town
    • Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria
    • William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley
    • Hester Rupert Art Museum, Graaff-Reinet
    • Oliwenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein
    • National Museum, Bloemfontein
    • Rupert Family Art Gallery, Stellenbosch
    • Sasol Art Museum, Stellenbosch
    • South African Constitutional Court

    University Collections - South Africa

    • University of Cape Town
    • University of Stellenbosch
    • University of the Orange Free State
    • University of Pretoria
    • University of the Witwatersrand

    Corporate Collections- South Africa

    • SABC Corporate Art Collection, Johannesburg
    • Standard Bank Corporate Art Collection, Johannesburg
    • Gencor Collection, Johannesburg
    • Stellenbosch Farmers Winery
    • KWV, Paarl
    • J.C.I., Johannesburg
    • Absa Corporate Art Collection, Pretoria
    • Norwich Union, Cape Town
    • First National Bank, Pretoria
    • N.B.S., Cape Town
    • CSIR, Pretoria
    • Old Mutual, Cape Town
    • Cape of Good Hope Bank, Cape Town
    • Sanlam, Bellville
    • Dimension Data, Johannesburg
    • B.O.E., Cape Town
  • Commissions

    1958

    Mural for Oranjezicht House

    1970

    Tapestry for the Nico Malan Theatre, Cape Town

    1971

    Mural for Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg

    1976

    Four mosaic panels, Tygerberg Hospital, Cape Town

    1977

    Mosaic panel, Melville Shopping Centre, Knysna

    1977-78

    Two mural panels, Medical Faculty, Tygerberg Hospital

    1977

    Painting acquired for Constitutional Court building

  • Awards

    1966

    Awarded Carnegie grant and undertakes study tour to the United States

    1972

    Awarded Cape Arts Medal by South African Association of Arts

    1990

    Awarded Medal of Honour by Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns

    1994

    Cape Tercentenary Foundation Award of Honour

    2009

    Achieves highest price at auction for a living South African

  • Bibliography

    Berman, E. Art and Artists of South Africa. 1996. Southern Book Publishers: Johannesburg

    Fransen, H. Erik Laubscher: A Life in Art. 2009. SMAC Art Gallery: Stellenbosch

    Ogilvie, G. The Dictionary of South African Painters and Sculptors. 1988. Everard Read: Johannesburg