Live Auction, 7 October 2019
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About this Item
In 1955 Scottish-born Marjorie Wallace arrived in Cape Town with her South African husband, Jan Rabie, an Afrikaans writer and a prominent member of the Afrikaans literary movement, Sestigers.
She had enjoyed a successful art career in Paris, where she retained a studio, and their intention was to divide their time between Europe and South Africa. In 1966 she relinquished the Parisian studio after which they traveled extensively, spending long sojourns on the Greek islands, Lesbos and Crete, before returning to South Africa and finally settling in Onrus, near Hermanus.
Wallace became deeply involved with Sestigers and was active in their fight against apartheid and, in particular, in separating the Afrikaans language from the ideology. As time passed she became increasingly interested in the rural life of the Coloured communities, acknowledging them as fellow Afrikaans speakers and, as such, intrinsically part of the Afrikaans language.
She was particularly interested in the simplicity of the life of the rural Coloured people. She admired and respected their values, often describing them as ‘the salt of the earth’. She painted many scenes of funerals, the fisherfolk of Arniston and Hawstone, and watched women at work in domestic surroundings and as farm labourers. Whilst her sympathetic eye did not miss the homeless and the compassion of mothers towards their vulnerable children, she also celebrated their sense of fun and laughter.
Wallace’s human beings belong in their surroundings. Their movements are never posed or contrived and they fall as naturally into pictures as does the play of light or the flash of colour.
Her approach to her subject matter is marked by respect and kindness. In her paintings she created a social-economic document of the lives of this community, not only showing their hardships but their acceptance of their situation.
The figures in her landscapes are real people with whom she had engaged, people that she genuinely cared about. She was deeply aware that their lives were hidden from the outside world and her mission was to keep their memory alive while creating a social-economic and political document of their unacknowledged position.
This is Wallace’s most important contribution to South African art – her documentation in painterly terms of this particular section of our collective South African life. This is, in fact, her legacy.
In this triptych, Kerkgangers Van Wyksdorp, Wallace captures farm people on their way to Sunday church, neatly dressed and with a sense of expectancy in their togetherness, in exchanging the news of the week and enjoying a meal together. She appreciated their humility, their commitment to one another and their resignation that this was the best that life would offer them.
She told me that she considered them to be ‘noble subjects’ and ‘people that understand the essence of life – real life living it in the present.’
Wallace often visited her brother-in-law in Van Wyksdorp – a retired scientist who, when he died, believed that, with some 8 000 lines, he had written the longest ever (unfinished) poem.
Amanda Botha (2006) Marjorie Wallace: Drif en Vreugde, Cape Town: David Philip.
cf. Amanda Botha (2006) Marjorie Wallace: Drif en Vreugde, Cape Town: New Africa Books. A similar example is illustrated in colour on page 55.