The Early Pioneer Artists of South Africa

Ernest Mancoba ( 1904 -  ) 

26 February 2001  by Andries Loots
Ernest Methuen Mancoba was born in 1904 in Turffontein,  Johannesburg.

Although he never received formal art training, he was greatly inspired by two fellow artists namely Lippy Lipshitz ( 1903 - 1980 ) and Irma Stern ( 1894 - 1966 ). He  read as much literature as possible on European Art and also about African Art included in Museums abroad. From these studies it became apparent to Ernest that African Art had a very significant and strong influence on 20th Century European art. This inspired him in his work but also motivated him to travel abroad to see the paintings for himself. He loved sculpting and completed  various commission works for different churches. In 1938 he left South Africa to study art in Paris.

In Paris he met Danish artist Sonja Ferlov ( 1911 - 1984 ) who he later married. Ernest's works can be described as spontaneous bursts of colour. It is immediately apparent  that he wanted to express the fact that line and colour can be used without representing anything else. It was extraordinary for a South African artist to have worked in this style. 

He preferred to work in watercolour as it allowed for spontaneous brushwork and only did his first oil painting in 1940.  In 1952 he stopped producing sculptures and concentrated on painting. In 1952 he moved from Paris and settled west of the capital but in 1960 moved back and  bought a small shop were he also lived. In 1961 he became a French citizen and in 1994 after an absence of 56 years he visited South Africa for the first time for his Retrospective exhibition in Johannesburg.  

Exhibitions :
1934 - 35 - South African Academy Exhibition,  Johannesburg
1994 - Hand in Hand - Retrospective exhibition, Johannesburg Art Gallery
1995 - Hand in Hand - Retrospective exhibition, National Gallery, Cape Town

Awards :
1935 - First Prize May Esther Bedford Competition,  Fort Hare

Ernest is presently still living in France.

His works are taken up in various collections: 
Silkborg Kunstmuseum, Silkeborg,  Johannesburg Art Gallery,  Sister's Chapel,  Grahamstown,   Grace Dieu College,  Church of St Augustine, Kent, UK,   and private collections world wide.

A typical water colour by
 Ernest Mancoba
Ernest Mancoba,  A Resource Book, Johannesburg Art Gallery, 1994, Elza Miles,   ISBN 1-87436-21-3 

Ernest Mancoba at home,  Video, 1994,  Bridget Thompson

Images of Man,  Contemporary South African Black Art and Artists,  Fort Hare University Press,  E.J. De Jager,  ISBN. 1-86810-015-4

Land and Lives,  The story of early black artists, Human & Rossouw,  Elza Mils,  ISBN 0798136588

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