Eleanor Frances Esmonde-White

(1914 – 2007)

Esmonde-White was born 1914 in Dundee, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Not much is known about her upbringing, but she did experience formal training in the arts, starting from 1932, when she enrolled at the University of Natal. Here she was taught under O J Oxley until 1934. In 1935-36 Esmonde-White attended the Royal College of Art, in London, during her studies in London; she was awarded Herbert Baker Scholarship to study mural painting in London and Italy. Finally in 1937 she studied at the British School in Rome.

Between 1938 and 1954 Esmonde-White was a member of the New Group. In 1951 she established and taught in the department of design at Michaelis School of Fine Art, in Cape Town, till 1960. During her career as an artist, she was involved in illustration of various children’s books. In 1959 she designed stage sets and costumes for ballet and opera performed at the University of Cape Town. In 1963 she was involved in stage and costume designs for CAPAB dramas. This is an aspect which influenced her work, instilling a sense of the theatrical in her use of often dramatically stylised compositions and use of warm, strong colour.

Esmonde-White’s works are primarily figure compositions, often focusing on the subject of women and their actions.  Esmonde-White’s painting changed over the years, her earlier works more linear in concept with less sensuous forms. Gradually, through her practice, the strong outline faded, and more emphasis was put on the painterly quality in large coloured areas. Her works are primarily in oil, with large amounts of graphic works including African inspired woodcuts. The dramatic colour use and expressive brush work is characteristic of Esmonde-White’s painting.

1932 – 1934

University of Natal, under Professor O J P Oxley

1935 – 1936

Royal College of Art, London under Sir William Rotherstein, Gilbert Spences and Eric Ravilious

1935 – 1937

Awarded the Herbert Baker Scholarship to study mural painting in London and Italy

1937

British School, Rome

1952

First of numerous Group Exhibitions, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein

Van Riebeeck Tercentenary Exhibition, Cape Town

1954 – 1955

International Colour Woodcut Exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

1955

Exhibited regularly on the Biennial International Graphic Exposition, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia

1956

First Quadrennial Exhibition of South African Art

Venice Biennale

1957

São Paulo Biennale

1958

First Solo exhibition, Cape Town

1960

Second Quadrennial Exhibition of South Africa

1961

São Paulo Biennale (Graphic)

1964

Venice Biennale (Graphic)

1966

Republic Festival Exhibition, Pretoria

1978

restige Exhibition, National Museum, Bloemfontein

Public – South Africa

  • Rembrandt Art Foundation
  • Polokwane Collection

Museums & Galleries – South Africa

  • Iziko South Africa National Gallery, Cape Town
  • Durban Art Gallery
  • William Humphreys Gallery, Kimberley
  • Hester Rupert Museum, Graaff-Reinet
  • Pretoria Art Museum
  • Johannesburg Art Gallery

Universities – South Africa

  • University of Witwatersrand Galleries
  • University of the Free State

1935 – 1937

South Africa House, London with Le Roux Smith Le Roux (Mural)

1938

Queen Elizabeth Liner with Le Roux Smith Le Roux (Mural)

Science Museum, London (Mural)

1942

New Law Courts, Johannesburg (Mural)

1951

Overland Pavilion, Festival of Britain, South Bank, London (Mural)

1952

van Riebeek Tercentenary Festival (Mural)

Cape Province Library, Cape Town (Mosaic)

1966

Welkom Civic Theatre (Tapestry)

1969

Divisional Council Chamber, Cape Town (Tapestry)

1972

Nico Malan Opera House, Cape Town (Tapestry)

1977

Baxter Theatre, Cape Town (Tapestry)

1936

Prix de Rome

1952

Cape Tercentenary Foundation Award for Design

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