Stanley Pinker is, in many ways, exceptional in South African art – an extraordinarily intelligent and sensitive artist who, though responsive to both the international artistic milieu and to local social and cultural influences, has developed a unique style and a distinctive iconography unrelated to other developments here.
He was introduced to European Modernism at the Continental School of Art, where from 1947 to 1950 he studied under Maurice van Essche who, in turn, had studied under Matisse in 1933 while in the south of France. In the ten years that Pinker lived between London and Nice from 1954 until 1964 he developed a sophisticated understanding of the tenets of Modernism which is very evident in The Bathers.
With characteristic individualism and courage, Pinker tackles the tradition of the nude that has flourished in Europe for centuries but has been somewhat proscribed in South Africa due to pervasive conservatism. Antecedents for The Bathers can be traced to Cézanne’s series of bathers and to the bold simplification of form and the focus on light, peace and pleasure that Matisse made so central to his art.
Esmé Berman notes the ‘French quality of sensuous elegance’ that characterised Pinker’s paintings as he ‘began to work towards a more subtle interpretation of mood’.1 Here bold, formal simplifications and the clever use of complex spaces are softened by cool blues and greens to create a fluid and mellifluous atmosphere.
1. Esmé Berman, Art and Artists of South Africa, AA Balkema, Cape Town and Rotterdam, 1983, page 335