Anton van Wouw’s Miner with a Hand Drill, dated 1911, is a rare and remarkable example of his best sculpture. Few castings exist of this large bronze measuring 60 centimetres in height as, even in Van Wouw’s lifetime, its price was exceptionally high, according to Professor Dr Alexander Duffey.1 No other bronze by Van Wouw has excited so much interest at auction since Strauss & Co achieved R2 228 000 in March 2010 for the sculptor’s Bad News cast at the G. Massa Foundry in Rome.
This bronze was also cast at the same foundry in Rome under the sculptor’s close supervision. Another example of similar quality, cast at the Nisini Foundry in Rome, has been in the permanent collection of the Pretoria Art Museum since 1981. Connoisseurs recognise the dramatic differences between these bronzes cast by the best Italian craftsmen and those local and posthumous casts of inferior quality.
Van Wouw’s sculptural skill is apparent here in the accurate anatomical detail of the figure which was originally modelled in the nude. Its exquisite light brown patina and highly polished surface contrast with the surrounding roughly hewn rock face. Working with hand-held implements in the flickering light of a candle, the miner’s determined effort in the most difficult conditions is convincingly captured by the sculptor and reflected in his taut musculature, concentrated gaze and the arc of his hammer arm that all focus attention on the primary task – to hit the hand drill. Miner with a Hand Drill provides a strong social statement on mining and labour in South Africa at the turn of the century.
1. AE Duffey, Anton van Wouw: The Smaller Works, Protea Book House, Pretoria, 2008, page 89.
AE Duffey, Anton van Wouw: The Smaller Works, Protea Book House, Pretoria, 2008, pages 89-92, illustrated, with the title The Hammer Worker
J Ernst, Anton van Wouw, Corals Publishers, Vanderbijlpark, 2006, page 74, illustrated, with the title Die Hammerwerker
Hans Fransen, Three Centuries of South African Art, AD Donker, Johannesburg, 1982, pages 326 and 327, illustrated
AE Duffey, Anton van Wouw 1862-1945 en die Van Wouwhuis, University of Pretoria, 1981, page 12
ML du Toit, Suid-Afrikaanse Kunstenaars, Deel 1, Anton van Wouw, Cape Town, 1933, plate number 13