Auas Mountains, SWA, Blatt,  Johannes

History of the Collection

Auas Mountains, SWA, Blatt, Johannes

History of the Collection

Published On: November 10, 2022
By: Rosemary Holloway

The history of the art gallery and its collection, maybe traced back to well before 1952 when the art gallery first opened its doors to the public. Kimberley was fortunate in having, even in its early days, men with foresight and an appreciation of things other than the purely material. The history of the city’s cultural organisations in the early years of this century was the Kimberley Athenaeum, formed to promote all aspects of culture in a town which was geographically divorced from the mainstream of the South African cultural activity.

The art section of the Kimberley Athenaeum was particularly active. Under the chairmanship of Mr William Timlin, assisted by the secretary, Mr Arthur Pett, the idea was conceived of collecting South African works of art which, it was hoped, would one day grace the walls of an art gallery in Kimberley. Over a period of almost forty years this collection, which included the work of such pioneers of South African paintings as Frans Oerder, Pieter Wenning, J.H Pierneed, Nita Spilhaus, Clement Sénèque, and William Timlin himself, was brought together. When the Kimberley Athenaeum was disbanded in 1940s, the collection of artworks was given in trust to the Kimberley City Council and eventually found a permanent home in the art gallery of which these two men had dreamed so many years before.

The second collection to find a home in the art gallery was that bequeathed to the city by Dr Max Greenberg, a Johannesburg physician who had been educated at Christian Brothers’ College in Kimberley. This collection, which comprised 55 works of art, included paintings by Pieter Wenning, Frans Oerder, J.H Pierneef, and Gregoire Boonzaier, and four bronzes by Anton van Wouw and one by Moses Kottler. Held in trust for the city by the Kimberley City Council, these were initially displayed in the Kimberley Public Library until, on completion of the art gallery building, they were permanently housed there. Some years later, trusteeship of the collection was formally transferred to the Art Gallery Council.

The last and most magnificent collection in the art gallery was that given by Mr William Benbow Humphreys, then member of parliament for Kimberley. The deed of donation signed on 15 October 1948 by William Humphreys and the president and the secretary of the Northern Cape Technical College states that William Humphreys, in consideration of his long association with the public life of the Northern Cape and his desire to further the interests of he said region, gave to the college pictures and other works of art which were selected from his private collection by Mr P Anton Hendricks, then director of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. With this gift, which comprised painting by Flemish and Dutch masters of the 16th and 17th centuries, paintings by English and French painters as well as pieces of antique furniture and other objets d’art, was an undertaking by Mr Humphreys to contribute a sum of £5 000 which would be paid to the college when required for the construction of a suitable gallery to house the collection.

This donation was a paramount importance because of its composition and because the gift was coupled with the condition that a suitable building be constructed to accommodate the collection. This put the onus on a recognized, established, and government-funded body to bring such a project to fruition. Had this not been so, it is likely that the Humphreys bequest would have continued to hang indefinitely on the walls of the Northern Cape Technical College.

In addition to these large collections, many excellent works of art have been donated to the art gallery over the years.