Maud Frances Eyston Sumner

(1902 – 1985)

“As a person I am South African and English, but as a painter I am French.”  Maud Sumner

South African artist Maud Sumner once commented; “as a person I am South African and English, but as a painter I am French” (Berman, E. 1983:444). Born in Johannesburg in 1902, Maud Sumner began what was to become a highly academic and studious career, showing an immense interest in art throughout her earlier school days.

For her family’s reassurance she chose to do a Masters degree in English Literature, which she completed at Oxford University in England and thus begun her extensive studies abroad and never really settled for long in South Africa again. Following this in 1925 Sumner attended the Westminster school of Art and then, feeling a limitation in the London art environment, left for Paris and after a short stint at sculpture, devoted herself to painting, the medium that she developed throughout her artistic career and is now known for.

Post-impressionists in Paris had a massive bearing on her approach to art-making that remained throughout her career. It was initially the Intimists’ approach to composition and subject matter that captivated Sumner and she felt an easy appreciation for the favoured interior, domestic scenes that created, as their name suggests, an intimate focus to this subject.

The differences of the foreign landscapes of Europe also stimulated her in her compositions, which she enthusiastically delved into. It was, however, the Post-Impressionist movement in Paris that had the most bearing on Sumner, who embraced the formal qualities and the style which set the foundations of her approach to art. Over a short amount of time her subject delieantion became broader and more simplified, the colours became toned down and more focus was given to the formality of composition.

Her development was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, when she returned to South Africa for its duration. Sumner continued to apply a European approach to art to a South African landscape and theme, her work being well received in South Africa. She continued to be active throughout her life both locally and internationally and gained recognition for her great merits in both hemispheres of the world.

When she returned to Europe between 1947 and 1953, she lived in both Paris and London which induced a major adjustment to her painting style. Sumner’s new approach favoured highly geometric and semi-abstract investigations which used intensified colours, replacing the earlier subtle paleness with a vibrancy that animated her paintings with innovation and freshness.

Sumner’s colours did soften again following a trip to Israel in 1953, where the landscape’s hot and bleached tones perhaps altered her view. From then on she no longer so adamantly applied a ‘French’ way of looking at other spaces such as South Africa or the Middle East. The Israeli environment had a definite effect on her work, inspiring a period of religious themed paintings and consequently was commissioned to do several works for churches, including stained glass windows for several places of worship in both Europe and Africa.

After several trips taken around Africa in 1965, space and silence, already a predominant theme in her works, became the central aspect to her compositions. From this time arthritis in her hands was becoming an infliction that she sought to overcome, never relinquishing her dedication to her painting. In 1978 Sumner suffered a stroke while staying in Paris and was forced to return to South Africa, where she continued to paint but never again traveled.

Her works never used the thick impasto and loosely undefined brushwork associated with Expressionism, the formalist qualities of Post-Impressionism was a constant focus throughout Sumner’s life, which exhibited a controlled and proficient use of medium. Her use of colour was ever-evolving, imparting a luminosity though heat and dryness and through gradients of emotion which are indefinable but prevalent when viewing her compositions. The evocative nature of Sumner’s paintings, ranging across her still lifes, figure studies and landscapes, illustrates a distinction from other South African paintings in her unique and accomplished style in terms of originality, subtlety and the sense of imbued emotion that is an ever present quality in her paintings.

1922

Literature at Oxford (MA)

1925

Westminster School of Art under Frank Dobson and Bernard Meninsky

1926

Drawing lessons under the sculptor Naoum Aronson in Paris

1926 – 1929

Académie de la Grande Chaumière, Paris under Georges Desvallièrs and François Quelvée

1929 – 1932

Ateliers de l’Art Sacré, Paris under Maurice Denis

1932

briefly under André Lhote

c. 1934

Académie de la Grande Chaumière, Paris under Othon Friesz

1938

Académie Ranson, Paris under Roger Bissiere

1932

Participated in group exhibitions in Italy, France, Belgium, the UK, the USA, Brazil, Greece, West Germany, South African and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)

1932

Galérie Druet, Paris, first of 70 solo exhibitions held in Paris, London, Oxford, Salisbury (Harare), Bulawayo,

Ashbey’s Gallery, Cape Town

Salon d’Automne ( – 1961)

Salon des Tuileries ( – 1938)

1933

Lezard’s, Johannesburg

Macfadyen Hall (University of Pretoria), Pretoria

1935

Mayor Gallery, London

1936

Empire Exhibition, Johannesburg

Femmes Artistes Modernes Exhibition, Paris

Lezard’s, Johannesburg

1937

First of many group exhibitions with the London Group.

Ashbey’s Gallery, Cape Town

Macfadyen Hall (University of Pretoria), Pretoria

1939

The Mayor Gallery, London

1940

Bedford Hall, Oxford

1941

First of many group exhibitions with the New Group, Cape Town.

Lidchi’s, Johannesburg

Art Gallery, Durban

1942

Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

Bloemfontein

Argus Gallery, Cape Town

University Hall, Stellenbosch

1943

Argus Gallery, Cape Town

Town Hall, Salisbury, Bulawayo

1944

Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

Argus Gallery, Cape Town

Arts Hall, Port Elizabeth

1945

Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

Macfadyen Hall, Pretoria

1946

Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

Macfadyen Hall, Pretoria

1947

The Mayor Gallery, London

Argus Gallery, Cape Town

1948

Participated in the overseas Exhibition of South African Art, Tate Gallery, London.

Venice Bien (representing UNESCO)

Galerie Jeanne Castel, Paris

1949

Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

Macfadyen Hall, Pretoria

1950

South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

Tudor Gallery, Durban

Pietermaritzburg Training College, Pietermaritzburg

1951

Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

Macfadyen Hall, Pretoria

1952

Van Riebeeck Tercentenary Exhibition, Cape Town

South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

1953

Rhodes Centenary Exhibition, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Schweickerdt’s, Pretoria

Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

1955

Galerie André Weil, Paris

1956

Zwemmer’s, London

Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

South African Association of Arts Gallery

Schweickerdt’s, Pretoria

1956-64

Exhibited frequently at the Women’s International Art Club, London.

1958

Galerie André Weil, Paris

1959

Vorster Gallery, Pretoria

Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg

1960

Grabowski Gallery, London

Durban

1962

Pieter Wenning Gallery, Johannesburg

South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

1963

Galerie Barbizon, Paris

1964

Prestige Exhibition – Opening Exhibition of the new Pretoria Art Museum

Quadrennial Exhibition

Pieter Wenning Gallery, Johannesburg

1965

“Recent Paintings”, Grabowski Gallery, London

Pieter Wenning Gallery, Johannesburg

1966

Republic Festival Exhibition, Pretoria

South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

1967

“Eaux et deserts”, Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris

1968

SAAA Gallery, Pretoria, Retrospective Exhibition

1969

“Silence and Space”, Drian Galleries, London

1970

“Silence and Space”, Saambou Building Society, Cape Town

1971

“Johannesburg Artists” Prestige Diamond Jubilee Exhibition, Johannesburg Art Gallery

“Entry into Silence”, Pieter Wenning Gallery, Johannesburg

“Maud Sumner and her 46th South African Exhibition”, South African Association of Arts (Northern Transvaal), Pretoria

1973

“Crossing through Silence and Space”, Drian Galleries, London

“Crossing the Silence”, Pieter Wenning Gallery, Johannesburg

1976

“Maud Sumner Paintings 1926 – 1976” Fifty-Year Retrospective Exhibition, Pieter Wenning Gallery, Johannesburg

1977

“South African Art” Exhibition, National Gallery of Rhodesia, Salisbury (Harare, Zimbabwe)

“Comprehensive Exhibition” Retrospective, Pretoria Art Museum

1978

“Comprehensive Exhibition” Retrospective, South African National Gallery, Cape Town

1979

Watercolours from South Africa” Exhibition, Nuremberg, West Germany

1980

Hoffer Gallery, Pretoria, Retrospective Exhibition

1981

Republic Festival Exhibition

William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley, Exhibition

1990

“Maud Sumner and her Contemporaries”, Pretoria Art Museum

Public Collections – International

  • The Municipal Museum of Modern Art, The Hague, The Netherlands
  • Musée de l’Art Moderne, Paris, France
  • The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK
  • The Contemporary Art Society, London, UK

Public Collections – South Africa

  • Sandton Municipal Collection
  • Rembrandt Foundation
  • Arts Association SWA/Namibia Collection

Museums & Galleries

  • South African National Gallery, Cape Town
  • Johannesburg Art Gallery
  • Durban Art Gallery
  • Pretoria Art Museum
  • William Humphreys Gallery, Kimberley
  • Hester Rupert Art Museum, Graaff-Reinet
  • Ann Bryant Gallery, East London
  • Africana Museum, Johannesburg
  • Pietersburg Art Gallery
  • King George VI Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth
  • National Museum, Bloemfontein
  • Potchefstroom Museum
  • Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermartizburg

Universities

  • University of the Witwatersrand
  • UNISA
  • Rand Afrikaans University
  • S.A. Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns
  • University of Cape Town
  • University of the Orange Free State
  • University of Pretoria
  • University of Stellenbosch

Private Collections in:

  • England
  • Ireland
  • Scotland
  • France
  • Denmark
  • Holland
  • Switzerland
  • Italy
  • South Africa
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Rhodesia
  • Brazil
  • Bermuda
  • Iraq
  • China
  • Israel
  • America

c. 1954

Commissioned to create stained glass windows for Onitsha Cathedral, Nigeria, Abergele Church and Prestatyn Church, Wales and St. Mary’s Cathedral, Cape Town.

1977 – 1978

Tapestry design for De Beers London offices

1971

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

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