Frederik Bester Howard (Erik) Laubscher

(1927 - 2013)




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


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


    Family moves to Queenstown


    Family moves to Port Elizabeth


    Enrolls at Queen’s College, Queenstown


    Completes Matric


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


    Studies in London under portraitist Frank Slater, RA


    Studies at the Anglo-French Art Centre, London


    Returns to South African for six months


    Studies in Paris at the Academie Montmartre

    Meets Claude Bouscharain


    Returns to Cape Town

    Marries Claude Bouscharain


    Moves into no.6 Cheviot Place

    Teaches with Alfred Krenz in Stellenbosch


    Takes over the Continental (renamed Contemporary) School of Art

    Joins the New Group


    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


    Joins Nasionale Boekhandel to head artists’ material department


    Chairman South African Association of Arts (Western Cape)

    Colour consultant for Plascon Paints


    Changes from oils to acrylics


    Founder member of the Artists’ Gallery

    National vice-president of the South African Association of Arts


    Awarded Carnegie grant and undertakes study tour to the United States


    Founder committee member Friends of the South African National Gallery


    Director Cape Town Art Centre


    Committee member National Art Teachers Association

    Founder and principal of Ruth Prowse Art Centre


    Convener Republic Festival exhibition

    Co-selector São Paulo Biennale

    Reverts to oil paints


    Awarded Cape Arts Medal by South African Association of Arts


    Trip to Namibia

    Art critic: To the Point


    Ruth Prowse Art Centre becomes School of Art


    Tour of Europe

    Visits Namaqualand


    Trustee Michaelis Collection

    Trips to Koue Bokkeveld


    Co-founder of the Artists’ Guild


    Chairman of the Artists’ Guild

    Founder member the Cape Arts Forum


    Member of the Schutte Commission


    Member of the selection panel of the first Cape Triennial


    Trustee South African National Gallery


    Awarded Medal of Honour by Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns


    Retires as Principle of Ruth Prowse Art Centre


    Achieves highest price at auction for a living South African

  • Studies


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


    Studied portrait drawing under Frank Slater RA in London

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


    Academie Montmartre, Paris under Fernand Leger

  • Exhibitions


    Solo exhibition at Garlick’s Gallery, Port Elizabeth


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

    Solo exhibition at Fogarty’s Bookshop, Port Elizabeth

    Solo exhibition, ID Booksellers, Cape Town


    Solo exhibition at South African Association of Art, Argus Gallery


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

    Group exhibition, van Riebeek Festival


    Solo exhibition, Gallery Vincent, Pretoria

    Joins and exhibits with the New Group


    Two paintings selected for Venice Biennale


    Work selected for Venice Biennale


    Work selected for South African entry to São Paulo Biennale

    Solo exhibition, Geneva


    Withdraws entry for Venice Biennale


    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


    First Johannesburg solo exhibition, Gallery 101


    Contributes to Cape Salon exhibition, South African Association of Art


    Solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg


    Successful solo exhibition, Strand Galleries, Cape Town


    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Art


    Solo exhibition, Wolpe Gallery, Cape Town


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


    First Retrospective exhibition, University of Stellenbosch


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


    Republic Festival, Durban

    Solo exhibition, University of Stellenbosch


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


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


    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Art

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


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


    Solo exhibition, Stellenbosch


    Retrospective exhibition, University of Stellenbosch


    Featured artist: Oudtshoorn Festival

    Participates in exhibition “LewendeKunstenaars 70+”, Bellville


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


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


    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


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


    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


    Mural for Oranjezicht House


    Tapestry for the Nico Malan Theatre, Cape Town


    Mural for Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg


    Four mosaic panels, Tygerberg Hospital, Cape Town


    Mosaic panel, Melville Shopping Centre, Knysna


    Two mural panels, Medical Faculty, Tygerberg Hospital


    Painting acquired for Constitutional Court building

  • Awards


    Awarded Carnegie grant and undertakes study tour to the United States


    Awarded Cape Arts Medal by South African Association of Arts


    Awarded Medal of Honour by Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns


    Cape Tercentenary Foundation Award of Honour


    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