Maria Magdalena (Maggie) Laubser

(1886 - 1973)

About

Maria Magdalena (Maggie) Laubser was born in the Malmesbury district, Cape Town, in 1886. She attended Bloemhof Seminary in Stellenbosch until the age of 15. She later attended singing lessons in Cape Town, where she became involved with a circle of artists and musicians. She shortly changed from singing to painting classes and became a member of the SA Society of Artists in 1907. She had her own studio in Cape Town until 1912 but, unable to directly earn a living through painting, she returned to the farm of her childhood in the Transvaal and took a position as governess on a farm near Ermelo. 

She then met JHA Blawé, a successful businessman, who became her patron and convinced her parents to permit her to study in Europe. Laubser arrived in Laren, Holland in 1913, a village which was a magnet for artists from The US, The Hague School, England and France. This exposure to a wide variety of artistsinspired and awakened Laubser to new artistic possibilities, especially the exciting modern movements in the art world.

At the outbreak of the First World War Laubser moved to London and attended classes at the Slade School of Art from 1914 to 1919. The classes were too unadventurous for Laubser’s taste, who then started only attending the drawing classes. Laubser traveled around the Lake District in England and Scotland during this period, on her own painting trips.

In 1919 Laubser moved to Belgiumwhere she was exposed to Van Gogh’s work. She persisted with her outdoor painting, focusing on the scenic wheat fields in the area. Laubser remained in Europe for some time, living in Northern Italy where she painted prolifically for nearly a year. She then moved to Berlin from 1922 to 1924 where she had contact with Irma Stern and other German Expressionists. Laubser intensified the forms and brightened the colours in her work, giving her work an expressive symbolic character. She then painted a series of portraits of an authentic Expressionistic style. 

Laubser returned permanently to South Africa in 1924 and had her first solo exhibition at the Argus Gallery in Cape Town, which was an economic and significant catastrophe. The conservative attitude of the Cape did not receive her bold, confrontational forms and unusual expressionistic use of colour warmly. Laubser, however, persisted with her exceptional expressionist approach to art and life itself. Though Laubser traveled seldom thereafter, she took painting trips round South Africa, producing portraits and landscapes. Laubser painted until her death at her home in 1973.

Laubser’s paintings have often been criticized for being naïve and childlike, but her history is an indication of her honesty and ambitiousness as an artist. Through her persistence in her personal vision and beliefs, she triumphed over the hardship of years of rejection as an internationally renowned South African master that is still celebrated today.

  • Chronology

    1886

    Born 14 April on the farmBloublommetjieskloof,in the Malmesbury District

    1893

    Attended farm school, Rocklands – had private piano tuition

    1897

    Attended Bloemhof Seminary, Stellenbosch – was taught art by conventional methods

    1901

    Education interrupted to give her brothers the opportunity to study

    Took singing lessons while living on the farm

    Introduced to Professor Edward Roworth – had painting lessons for two months with Professor Roworth (painted from postcards)

    1907

    Elected member of the South African Society of Artists

    1912

    Visited family in Pretoria

    Employed as governess in the Ermelo district – taught art and needlework

    While on vacation in Durban met Jan Hendrik Arnold Balwe who offered to finance overseas study for her and her sister

    1913

    Travelled with Hannag to the Netherlands to study art and music

    Lived in Laren - met artists, poets and writers

    1915

    Returned to South Africa briefly and visited her parents on the farmOortmanspost

    Returned to London to resume her studies at the Slade School of Art

    Influenced by friendship with painter Arnold Balwe (son of J. H. A. Balwe)

    1919

    Left England for Antwerp

    Post-World War I travelled with the Balwes to Italy – en route saw work by the German Expressionists

    1920

    Lived and painted near Lake Garda and San Vigilio, Italy

    Paid short visit to South Africa

    1921

    Travels to Bad Kissingen with Arnold Balwe and the ailing J. H. A. Balwe

    Death of J. H. A. Balwe (April/May)

    Travels to Venice, Milan and through the continent to England

    Returned to South Africa (September)

    1922

    Returns to Europe and stays in Berlin

    Visits Ahrenshoop on the Baltic Sea in the company of Irma Stern

    Is introduced to Professor Jachels, a celebrated portrait-painter and teacher

    Stimulated and influence by work of the Expressionists

    1924

    Attends concerts and exhibitions in Berlin

    Becomes acquainted with expressionist painters living in Berlin

    Returns to South Africa and takes up residence on the farmOortmanspost

    1925

    Work received with skepticism and poor critiques

    Met D. C. Boonzaier and Moses Kottler

    1926 - 1928

    Visits and paints in various places along the coast of the Western Cape

    1929

    Introduced by Mieke Siegers to Prof. and Mrs Serton who encouraged her to hold and exhibition in September

    Official recognition from the Union Government who purchased work for their overseas embassies

    1931

    First exhibition in the Transvaal

    Took painting trips throughout South Africa

    1933

    Elected as member of the South African Academy of Arts and Science

    1935

    Travels throughout South Africa with an extended stay in the Free State

    1936

    Her father dies on 3 May

    Her mother dies on 20 November

    1942

    Moves to Rusoord, Strand, Cape

    1944

    Publication of the bookMaggie Laubserby Johannes Meintjes

    1946

    Visits the Free State, Natal and Transvaal

    1947

    Settles at ‘Altyd Lig’, Strand, Cape

    1953

    Visits Natal

    1957

    Experimented with abstract forms

    1973

    Died at her home in Strand, Cape, on May 1

  • Studies

    1914

    Studied at Slade School of Art, London

    Refused to paint while studying in order to preserve individuality, modeled with clay

    1915

    Returned to the Slade School of Art, London

    1922

    Painted and studied under Professor Jachels, Germany

  • Exhibitions

    1909

    Group exhibition,Second Annual Exhibition of the Fine Art Association,Cape Town

    1922

    Group exhibition,Twenty-First Annual Exhibition of the South African Society of Artists,Cape Town

    1924

    Solo exhibition, Ferdinand Postma Biblioteek, Potchefstoom

    1925

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    1929

    Group exhibition, Inaugural Exhibition of Die Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniging, Bloemfontein

    Exhibition at Stellenbosch

    1931

    Solo exhibition, MacFadyen Hall, Pretoria

    Solo exhibition, Martin Melck House, Cape Town

    1932

    Group exhibition,First Annual Exhibition of South African Art,South African National Gallery, Cape Town

    1933

    Group exhibition,Second Annual Exhibition of South African Art,South African National Gallery, Cape Town

    1936

    Group exhibition,Fifth Annual Exhibition of South African Art,South African National Gallery, Cape Town

    Group exhibition,The Empire Exhibition,Johannesburg

    1937

    Group exhibition,Art from the Commonwealth,Royal Institute Galleries, London

    1938

    Joint exhibition with Rene Graetz, Cecil Higgs and Lippy Lipshitz

    Group exhibition,Orange Free State Society for Arts and Crafts Exhibition,Bloemfontein

    1942

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    1943

    Group exhibition,Fifth Annual ‘New Group’ Exhibition,Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    1944

    Group exhibition,‘New Group’ Spring Exhibition,Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    1945

    Group exhibition,‘New Group’ Spring Exhibition,Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Constantia Gallery, Johannesburg

    1947

    Group exhibition, ‘New Group’ Exhibition,Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    1948

    Group exhibition,Contemporary South African Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Tate Gallery, London

    Solo exhibition, Derry’s Gallery, Cape Town (March)

    Solo exhibition, Bloemfontein (June)

    Group exhibition,South African Art,Fine Arts Association, Cape Town

    1949

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Constantia Gallery, Johannesburg

    Group exhibition,‘New Group’ Exhibition,South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    1950

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    1951

    Group exhibition,‘New Group’ Exhibition,South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    1952

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town (April)

    Solo exhibition, Pretoria (September)

    Group exhibition,Venice Biennale XXVI

    Group exhibition,Van Riebeek Festival Exhibition of Contemporary South African Art,South African National Gallery, Cape Town

    1953

    Solo exhibition, Whippman Gallery, Johannesburg (October)

    Group exhibition,Central Rhodes Centenary Festival Exhibition: Three Centuries of South African Art,Bulawayo

    1954

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town (May)

    Group exhibition,Venice Biennale XXVII

    1955

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town (May)

    Solo exhibition, Technical College, Pretoria

    Group exhibition,Historical Exhibition of South African Art,Pretoria Centenary, Pretoria

    1956

    First Quadrennial Exhibition of South African Art, South African National Gallery, Cape Town

    1957

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    1958

    Group exhibition,Academy for Arts and Sciences Festival Exhibition, Stellenbosch

    1959

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Art Gallery, Cape Town (April)

    Solo exhibition, Pretoria (September)

    Group exhibition,Eight Contemporary South African Painters,Gemeentelijke Museum, Den Haag, Netherlands

    Group exhibition,Still Life and Flowers by some Women Artists of the Cape Peninsula,South African National Gallery, Cape Town

    1960

    Second Quadrennial Exhibition of South African Art,South African National Gallery, Cape Town

    Group exhibition,Looking at Landscape – South African Landscape Painting 1910- 1960,Union Festival, South African National Gallery, Cape Town

    1961

    Solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg

    1963

    Maggie Laubser Retrospective Exhibition,Egon Guenther Gallery, Johannesburg

    1964

    Group exhibition,South African Masters Exhibition,South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    Third Quadrennial Exhibition of South African Art,South African National Gallery, Cape Town

    1965

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    Retrospective Exhibition, South African National Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg

    1966

    Group exhibition,South African Art of the Twentieth Century,Rembrandt van Rijn Art Foundation, University of Stellenbosch

    Group exhibition,Annual Exhibition of the Eastern Province Society of Arts and Crafts

    1967

    Group exhibition,Ten Best South African Women Artists,Adler-Fielding Galleries, Johannesburg

    Group exhibition,Cape Art ’67,South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    1968

    Group exhibition,Festival of the Soil,Silberberg Gallery, Cape Town

    1969

    Retrospective Exhibition, South African National Gallery, Cape Town, the Pretoria Art Museum and the Johannesburg Art Gallery

    1975

    Prestige Exhibition, Rand Afrikaans University

    1980

    Prestige Exhibition, University of Stellenbosch

    1986

    Centenary Exhibition, Silberberg Gallery, Tulbagh, Cape Province

    1987-88

    Early Works from the Silberberg Collection,South African National Gallery

    2012

    Retrospective Exhibition,Altyd Lig,Sasol Art Museum, Stellenbosch

  • Collections

    Public Collections - South Africa:

    • Sandton Municipal Collection
    • SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns
    • Rembrandt Art Foundation, Stellenbosch

    Galleries & Museums - South Africa:

    • Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town
    • William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley
    • Hester Rupert Art Museum, Graaff-Reinet
    • National Museum, Bloemfontein
    • Durban Art Gallery, Durban
    • Johannesburg Art Gallery
    • Julius Gordon Africana Centre, Riversdale
    • Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth
    • Potchefstroom Museum, Potchefstroom

    University Collections - South Africa:

    • University of the Free State
    • University of Pretoria
    • University of the Witwatersrand
    • University of Johannesburg
    • University of South Africa
  • Awards

    1946

    Awarded the Medal of Honour by the South African Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns

    1947

    Received the Oscar Award for painting from theDie Vanderlandnewspaper

    1959

    Elected honorary member of the South African Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns

    1968

    Awarded Medal of Honour by the South African Association of the Arts for the Cape Region

  • Bibliography

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

    Marais, D.1994.Maggie Laubser: Her Paintings, Drawings and Graphics.Perskor: Johannesburg and Cape Town

    Miles, Dr. E.2004.A Liberatory Vision: Maggie Laubser from the Sanlam Art Collection.University of Stellenbosh: Cape Town

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

    Van Rooyen, J. 1974.Maggie Laubser.C. Struik: Cape Town and Johannesbur

Artwork

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