Gerard Sekoto

Impressionist Modern

(1913 – 1993)

“I am glad that people owning my works are communicating in spirit. That makes me feel happy and puts up lights into the dubious sides of my life, to know there are people spiritually communicating in many places upon earth.” Gerard Sekoto.

On 9 December in Botshabelo near Middleburg in what is now Mpumalanga, Gerard Sekoto was born on a Lutheran mission station where his father was a missionary and was training to be a teacher. Many members of Sekoto’s family from both his mother’s and father’s side lived on the mission and were all very musical and were mainly all teachers by trade. Sekoto himself trained initially as a teacher but established himself as a painter in the 1940s and is now considered a pioneer of modernism in Africa.

As a first generation black South African artist, Sekoto began as a child by making small animals out of clay in his rural home. He also began to use his older brother’s school slate to draw on, which progressed to paper and pencil to accommodate his more complex sketches where his natural artistic talent emerged. Sekoto quickly developed an interest in depicting people and local life that he saw around him, his drawings beginning as pure observations.

The period Sekoto painted in was a time of black segregation from white people. Sekoto illustrated township life and black culture in his artworks, which initiated the prominent township art genre recognizable in South African art. He later lived in Sophiatown, areas of which were later bulldozed by the Apartheid government. He created vibrant and compelling works that implies the energetic activity of life in as well as the conflict of the townships. In 1942 Sekoto moved to District Six in Cape Town and joined the ‘New Group’ in Cape Town, exhibiting around South Africa. Sekoto held his first solo exhibition in 1939 and 1940, from which the Johannesburg Art Gallery bought one of his works. This was the first picture by a black artist to enter a museum collection in South Africa.

In 1947 Sekoto, in self-imposed exile, left South Africa for Paris. He was never to return to his home. France inspired Sekoto in new ways allowed him to explored fresh subjects. The first years in Paris were difficult, Sekoto worked as a pianist at l’Echelle de Jacob, a trendy nightclub playing jazz to finance his living and art school expenses. Sekoto still painted primarily South African subjects in a European style, such as Impressionism, Cubism, and Orphism. Some think that he continued to paint scenes of South African life because he wanted to keep his own identity and to fortify his roots.

Sekoto held his first solo show in Paris in 1949 at Galérie Else-Claussen. It was not particularly successful, but after an article on him appeared in Time Magazine in October 1949, Sekoto’s situation improved. His paintings became political in nature during the 1970s as a reaction to Apartheid in his home country. In 1989 the Johannesburg Art Gallery honoured him with a retrospective exhibition and the University of Witwatersrand awarded Sekoto with an honorary doctorate.

Sekoto was a cultural observer and analyst and his contribution to historical art has been considerable. In 1990 the French Government awarded him one of the highest national cultural honours in France, the award of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. In 2003, after he had died, Sekoto was bestowed the Order of Ikhamanga in gold by President Mbeki for distinction in the arts and his role in the liberation struggle, demonstrating his importance as a figure and as an artist both in South African and globally.

1913

Born 9 December at Botshabelo near Middelburg, Transvaal

1930

Attended the Diocesan College near Pietersburg

1934

Taught at the Khaiso Secondary School near Pietersburg

Won 2ndPrize in an art competition

1938

Went to Sophiatown, Johannesburg

1942

Moved to District Six, Cape Town

Joined the new Group

1945

Moved to Eastwood, Pretoria

1947

Self-imposed Exile to Paris

1947-48

Attended drawing classes at de la Grande Chaumière. Played the piano in bars at night

1949

Articles on Sekoto appeared inTimemagazine (8 August 1949, October 1949)

Spent two months in St. Anne’s Asylum

1957

Contributed article for Présence Africaine June/September 1957 (Nos 14-15 pp 281-9)

1958

His poster chosen for Second Congress of Negro Writers and Artists in Rome

1968

Dimplome Officiel at XIX Prix International de Peinture de Deauville

1983

Car accident: remained at I’Hôpital Duypuytren until the end of 1986

1987

Moved to La Maison Internationale des Artistes, Nogent-sur-Marne, France

1989

Honorary Doctorate awarded by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

1993

Died at Nogent-sur-Marne, France

1939

First Exhibition at the South African Academy of Art, Selborne Hall, Johannesburg

Gainsborough Gallery, Johannesburg

First Solo Exhibition, Marlborough Gallery, Johannesburg

1940

South African Academy of Art, Selborne Hall, Johannesburg

Gainsborough Gallery, Johannesburg

1941

South African Academy of Art, Selborne Hall, Johannesburg

1942

South African Academy of Art, Duncan Hall, Johannesburg

1943

Gainsborough Gallery, Johannesburg

Jerome Gallery, Cape Town

Salisbury

1944

Argus Gallery, Cape Town

Gainsborough Gallery, Johannesburg

1945

Joint exhibition with sculptor Louis Maurice, Jerome Gallery, Cape Town

1946

Gainsborough Gallery, Johannesburg

1947

Gainsborough Gallery, Johannesburg

Christie’s, Pretoria

Vincent Gallery, Pretoria

1948

Exhibition at the French Colonial House, Paris

Gainsborough Gallery, Johannesburg

1948-50

Exhibited at the South African Art Exhibition, Tate Gallery, London, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Canada, United States of America, South African National Gallery and in Paris

1949

Galérie Else-Clausen, Paris

1950

Vincent Gallery, Pretoria

1951

Ralambshof Gallery, Stockholm

1952

Participated in the Van Riebeeck Tercentenary Exhibition, Cape Town

1953

Galerie Saint Placide, Paris

Bulawayo, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)

1954

I.D. Booksellers Gallery, Cape Town

1955

Petit Palais, Paris

Lawrence Adler Gallery, Johannesburg

Seventh Art Festival, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Galerie Reflets de Paris, Vichy

1956

Galerie Art Premier, Paris

1958

Lawrence Adler Gallery, Johannesburg

1959

Lawrence Adler Gallery, Johannesburg

1960

Salon d’Automne, Paris

Lawrence Adler Gallery, Johannesburg

1961

Galleria Santo Stefano, Venice, Italy

Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg

1962

Salon d’Automne, Paris

Group exhibition with Louis Maqhubela and Lucas Sithole, Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg

1963

Durban Art Gallery

Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg

1964

Nemours, France

Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg

1965

African Painters and Sculptors from Johannesburg, Piccadilly Gallery, London

Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg

1966

First International Festival of Negro Arts

Republic Festival Exhibition, Pretoria

Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg

1967

Theatre Daniel Sorano, Dakar (Exhibition with Wilson Tiberio)

1968

South African Association of the Arts, Pretoria

Senegalese Embassy, Paris

Galérie Marthe Nochy, Paris

1969

Christiane Colin Galerie, Paris

1970

Galleri BB, Denmark

Gallery Randers, Stockholm

1973

Gallerie du Marais, Bourges, Paris (Exhibition with Wilson Tiberio)

Pretoria Art Museum

1975

Atlantic Gallery, Cape Town

1978

Galerie Art Premier, Paris

1980

Maison de l’Afrique, Paris

Johannesburg Art Gallery

Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg

1984

South African National Gallery

1986

Historical Perspective of Black Art in South Africa, Alliance Française, Pretoria

Academy Gallery, Paris

Voices from Exile (Exhibition touring the USA)

1986 – 1987

Johannesburg Art Gallery

1987

Johannesburg Art Gallery

1988

Cassirer Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg

South African National Gallery, Cape Town

Johannesburg Art Gallery

1989

Retrospective Exhibition, Johannesburg Art Gallery

University of the Witwatersrand

Standard Bank Arts Festival, Grahamstown

Gertrude Posel Exhibition, Johannesburg

Cassirer Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg

1999

Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg

2013

“Song for Sekoto”: 26 April-2 June, Wits Art Museum, Johannesburg in conjunction with the Gerard Sekoto Foundation

“A Portrait of South Africa / Portrait de l’Afrique du Sud”: Paris, 30 October 2013 – 27 November (An exhibition of artworks by George Hallett, Peter Clarke and Gerard Sekoto)

Public Collections – International

  • Municipal Collection of the City of Paris
  • Several works acquired by President Leopold Senghor -exhibited in the Presidential Palace in Senegal
  • Gallery Guildhall, Chicago
  • la Ville de Paris

Corporate Collections – South Africa

  • Standard Bank Collection
  • TheSanlam Art Collection
  • The South African Reserve Bank Collection
  • The MTN Art Collection
  • The South African Broadcasting Corporation Art Collection
  • The Nedbank Art Collection

Galleries & Museums

  • Johannesburg Art Gallery
  • Pretoria Art Museum
  • South African National Gallery, Cape Town
  • William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley

Universities

  • University of Fort Hare, Alice
  • University of South Africa, Pretoria
  • University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries, Johannesburg

Private Collections

  • Great Britain
  • France
  • United States of America
  • The Ellerman House Art Collection, South Africa
  • Various other local and international private collections

1924

Received prize for design of the school badge for the Botshabelo Training College

1937

Received 2ndPrize in the May Esther Bedford Art Competition

1948

Painting was used for the South African Art Exhibition Poster, Tate Gallery, London

1959

Painting used as a poster for the Second Congress of Negros Writers and Artists, Rome.

1964

Awarded a prize at the Exhibition of African Art, Nemours, France

1968

Awarded XIXe Grand Prix International de Peinture de Deauville

1989

Received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

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