1 January 2013 Archived
"Portrait of a Girl with Geese" is one of the loveliest paintings by Maggie Laubser to have come onto the market in many years. Not only is it an excellent example of her early and much sought-after works but it has an impeccable provenance. It was acquired by Professor Pieter van Braam, Professor of Classics at Stellenbosch University, from the 1930 exhibition organised by the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings in Stellenbosch and has been in the same family for several generations.
The placement of the girl’s head to the left of centre, with her eyes looking to the right focuses our attention on the appealing child with her sweet features and directs us to the geese, creating an harmonious composition replete with the tranquillity and wholesomeness of the country life that Maggie so adored. Born on the farm, Bloublommetjieskloof, Laubser developed a deep love of nature and a respect for all living things which is clearly communicated in her finest paintings.
After living and working on Lake Garda in Italy for two years, she returned to South Africa in 1920 before taking up residence in Berlin for a further two years, where she came into contact with the German Expressionists. In 1924 she was back home, settling on the farm Oortmanspost, near Klipheuwel in the Malmesbury District. There she began to develop her distinctive pastoral themes, often including portraits of the labourers and their families, contextualised within their milieu. The best of these evidence the artist’s empathy with her sitters. On the basis of its style, including a strong composition and the refinement of form through the use of more shades of colour or tone scale and more substantial paint application, this painting is consistent with works produced around 1928.
Laubser described her approach to her subject in an article published in Die Huisgenoot in 1939:
Ek bekyk dit noukeurig ... Dan het ek my indruk en is vry om te skilder. Ek moet vry wees om te sklider; ek voel my gebonde as ek gedurig die toneel moet aanskou – dan verloor ek my eie siening daarvan. Die skildery moet in die kunstenaar se binneste kom met bewustheid van kleure, figure en lyne. Ons noem dit geheue, maar dit is meer as geheue: dit is die beeld wat lewe in die eie bewussyn, verskillend vir elke mens, lewendig soos ‘n voël, maar onbekend. Geen mens kan volgens vasgestelde reels skilder nie; dis ‘n genot van die hart, ‘n persoonlike ontwaking. ¹
I study it closely ... Then I have my impression and I’m free to paint. I must be free to paint; I feel bound if I have to repeatedly view the scene – then I lose my own vision of it. The painting must appear in the artist’s innermost being with consciousness of colours, forms and lines. We call this memory, but it is more than memory: it is the image that lives in your own consciousness, different for every person, alive as a bird, but unknown. No person can paint according to rules; it is a joy of the heart, a personal awakening. ²
Text by Emma Bedford, Senior Paintings Specialist
Portrait of a Girl with Geese
Signed with initials
Oil on cardboard
37 x 46 cm
R1 500 000 – 2 000 000
Maggie Laubser, ‘Waarom en hoe ek skilder’, Die Huisgenoot, 18 Augustus, 1939, bl ??
Translated by the author