The Early Pioneer Artists of South Africa

Simoni Mnguni

29 January 2001 by Andries Loots 

Commencing today I will weekly try and give some insight into the life and work of our earliest,  but yet forgotten pioneering artists that worked during the forming years of South African art history. They were  mostly self-taught with no formal training and were producing art because they felt the creative urge to capture their daily activity and  surroundings.
I will start with one of our great water colourists,   Simoni Mnguni ( 1885 - 1956 ). 

He was born in 1885 near Entembeni in KwaZulu Natal at a mission station. He attended the mission school and was fortunate to learn how to speak and write English. The young Simoni was for his first part of his live employed as a domestic worker and cook. He also had the opportunity to travel to Johannesburg and later to accompany his  employer to Mozambique on a hunting trip. 

It was however only at the age of 40 in 1925 that he seriously started painting. He was a painter of portraits, landscapes and rural scenes from the daily activities in the Zulu culture. He was intrigued by the medicine man/woman ( Sangoma's ) and produced quite a few paintings depicting their activities. 

His first paintings were bought  by one or two collectors but the remainder were mostly sold to a Curio shop owner for about 85 cents each. 

He signed his watercolours -  S.M.T. Mnguni ,  Simons Mnguni or S.M. Mnguni. He  sometimes titled the work above the signature.

His works are taken up in various collections: Campbell Collection of the University of Natal,  Bruce Campbell-Smith Collection, Cape  Town,   Mission Museum, Hermannsburg, KwaZulu Natal,  Bowmint Collection, Pretoria, Johannesburg Art Gallery and private collections in Germany.

Watercolour on paper 24 x 30cm
Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg
Ndongeni  1942
Watercolour on paper
37 x 29cm
Bowmint Collection, Pretoria
Land and Lives,  The story of early black artists, Human & Rossouw,  Elza Mils ISBN 0798136588
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