Boats on Water

Maria Magdalena (Maggie) Laubser

Oil on Board
25 x 37.5cm
Signed: "M. Laubser" (Lower/Left)
Dated: 1922


Provenance:   Mrs Taljaard, Stellenbosch


Exhibitions:     1. Argus Gallery Cape Town 1942, catalogue 88

                          2. Carnegie Library Stellenbosch 1942, catalogue 88


Literature:       Botha, EJ 1964. Die Lewe en Skilderwerk van Maggie Laubser. Unpublished MA Dissertation. Pretoria: University of Pretoria, catalogue 47, p 144


Notes:               This works has been redated to the Belgian period because of the motif, the palette and the brushwork.

                          RAU neg 2371

                          S 13674


Illustrated:      Marais, D. 1994. Maggie Laubser, Her Paintings, Drawings and Graphics. Perskor Press, Johannesburg & Cape Town. Page 115, Cat. No. 140

                        Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 2008. The Modern Palimpsest: Envisioning South African Modernity. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg. p. 50 & 51


Some controversy surrounds the exact location of the river bank and boats that are the subject of this charming painting by Maggie Laubser.  According to Dalene Marais, who compiled Maggie Laubser’s catalogue raisonné (1994), the scene was painted in Belgium, and not in Holland. The painting is reproduced in the catalogue and she lists it as Number 140 (Marais 1994: 115). Marais bases her evidence on the subject matter, the palette and the brushstroke, all of which are typical of Laubser’s Belgian period.  

Laubser stayed mainly in Antwerp and Schoten from June 1919 to September 1920. In Schoten, she resided at the Villa Chenes, in the Nachtigalen Lei, and the river in this work could well have been painted in the vicinity. What is also evident from this painting is the fact that Laubser painted this landscape directly on site, aligning herself with the plein air tradition of landscape painting of such artists as Eugene Boudin and Johan Barthold Jongkind. 

Marais also provides photographic evidence of Laubser frequently working outdoors during this time. In addition, Marais lists alternative titles for this painting, including On the Schelde (Antwerp), according to a catalogue listing of the painting at exhibitions in Stellenbosch and Cape Town in 1942, and the title Bote, according to Elza Botha’s Master’s Dissertation (1964).  The painting provides a rare opportunity to appreciate the innovative nature of Laubser’s early work. Not only does she eclipse the Dutch realist style of painting, predominant at the time, she also extends the Dutch impressionist style emerging during this time. 

Her use of colour is much lighter and brighter, even fresher, than the dull, muddy brown tones of the Dutch Impressionists, and her brushstrokes are much bolder than the timid impressionist ones. Marais (1994: 3) argues that it was during this period that Laubser developed her interest in the symbolic significance of light that became a pervasive interest in her life and her artistic career. 

The composition of the work is also much more dynamic than the Dutch Realist scenes: the sweeping bend of the river, from middle ground to foreground, seems to be contained, or blocked, by the moored fishing boats and their upright masts, intimating a virtual human resistance to the forces of nature. In addition, the shape of the single sailboat on the river echoes the shape of the cathedral tower in the distant background, repeating the triangular shapes of some of the other small sails of the two moored boats, creating a sustained rhythm across the picture plane.

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