Trained at the Rotterdam Academy, and apprenticed to the Belgian sculptor Joseph Graven, Anton van Wouw immigrated to South Africa in 1890 (the same year, incidentally, as did Frans Oerder). Having planned to work on an architectural scale between the developing cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg, the artist initially found few opportunities. However, after a major commission from Sammy Marks to cast a monument to President Paul Kruger, and syndicated backing to produce the small-scale bronzes of Boer and African figures that perhaps made his fame, his career was well-established in the years leading up to the Union of South Africa, having enjoyed solo shows in Johannesburg, Pretoria and London. But with no foundry in the country capable of casting bronze to the highest European standards, Van Wouw had little choice but to send his models and moulds for casting abroad. He routinely worked with two Roman foundries, those of Giovanni Massa and Giovanni Nisini. Finally, in 1931, an experienced Florentine foundryman, Renzo Vignali, who Van Wouw likely met in Italy while casting the monument to President MT Steyn, opened a foundry in Johannesburg. While Van Wouw continued to have work cast in Rome, the Vignali Foundry, which moved to its current premises north of Pretoria in 1942, cast a number of the artist’s works until his death in 1945.
The present lot, a sensitive portrait of General Koos de la Rey, the so-called Lion of the WestTransvaal, was cast by Renzo Vignali in 1940. With a beautiful patina like polished quartz, it shows the elderly, popular general with his brow furrowed, his beard parted and groomed, and his expression one of patriarchal concern. The head was based on the painted portrait by Edward Roworth, as well as the death mask that Van Wouw made while the general lay in state in Pretoria in 1914.