In 1920, Maggie Laubser returned to South Africa from Europe for a short visit to her family’s farm, Oortmanspoort, near Klipheuwel in the Malmesbury district. It is likely that this work was painted during this period as the subject matter is in line with her ‘South African phase’. This phase, encompassing her short visit in 1920 and a longer visit from 1921-1922, comprises a series of portraits of black and coloured female figures; likely women who worked on the farm in some capacity.
This portrait of Mietje in her dark purple jacket and complementary yellow headscarf is evidence of the influence of Vincent van Gogh on Laubser. The austerer quality of the work, with its singular light source bathing the face in light and casting the background and back of the head in shadow, is reminiscent of Van Gogh’s portraits of peasants in Nuenen, The Netherlands in the early- to mid-1880s.
Laubser would have come into contact with the work and ethos of Van Gogh in 1919-20, around the time that this portrait was created. Although she was adamant that she never encountered an original Van Gogh painting, she was introduced to the post-Impressionist artist by Arnold Balwé, her friend and the son of her benefactor, Jan Balwé. Laubser not only admired Van Gogh’s artistry but also related to his “ideas on the unity of God, human beings and life, nature and beauty”.2
1. Dalene Marais (1994). Maggie Laubser: her paintings, drawings and graphics. Johannesburg: Perskor. Page 38.
2. Muller Ballot (2016) Maggie Laubser: A Window on Always Light. Stellenbosch: Sun Press. Page 86.
Prof PP Serton, Stellenbosch, bought on early exhibition in Stellenbosch.
Mrs EC van der Straaten, Stellenbosch, received as a gift from the Serton Family.
Thence by descent to the current owner.
Annotated on the reverse: "Aan Ester van der Straaten als blyk van onze groote waardering voor haar houding in de moeilike jaren 1942-1946."