Leemans the Postman remains one of the rarest of all of Van Wouw’s early masterpieces. Conceived and modelled in 1901, with Pretoria in British hands, it is enlivened with a force of character that belies its small scale. The dignity and humility of the figure, with his crumpled jacket, his sweat-soaked veld hat, his workmanlike hands, and his untamed beard, is unmistakable.
The story of Leemans (1840–1908) is extraordinary too. A Dutchman, he met Kruger when the president was on official business in Holland prior to the Second Anglo-Boer War. Kruger made a promise to Leemans – without second thought, presumably – that there was a job waiting for him should he ever manage to get himself to the Transvaal. One can only imagine Kruger’s surprise then when Leemans turned up at his home in Pretoria some time later, having landed in Delagoa Bay, and made his way to the capital, mainly on foot. Kruger honoured his promise, and made Leemans responsible for delivering local telegrams. The pose Van Wouw chose for the figure was therefore a familiar one for Pretorians expecting mail: Leemans apparently removed his hat before handing over each telegram, bowed slightly, and noted that ‘die aflewering is kosteloos’ (the deliver is free).