The Early Pioneer Artists of South Africa

Gerard Sekoto ( 1913 - 1993 )

4 April 2002  by Andries Loots
Sekoto was born in 1913 at the  Botshabelo Lutheran Mission station near Middelburg in the Northern Province of South Africa. Here he received his early school training and later trained at the Anglican Teachers College near Pietersburg. In 1933 he encountered his first artistic influences which sparked his interest in art. The Rev. Roger Castle of the St. Peters School in Rossetenville, Johannesburg conducted part time art classes for interested black students at the school. This was the only training Sekoto  had as an artist in South Africa. 

Song of the Pick
Oil on board 
( Private Collection )

In 1939 Sekoto took part in his first group exhibition in the Gainsborough Gallery in Johannesburg as part of a student's exhibition. His work immediately attracted attention and shortly thereafter he had his first solo-exhibition in Pretoria. 

In 1947 Sekoto left for Paris with the help of a patron and after a successful solo-exhibition at the Gainsborough Gallerie in Johannesburg.
He soon discovered that life in Paris was not easy and he had to work long hours in cabaret bars playing piano and guitar to survive. He had to study art at l'Académie de la Grande Chaumiè and in some other studios around Paris to get into the very competitive art scene in Paris. These pressures and the emotional stress took their toll on Sekoto's health and he eventually ended up in hospital.

Sekoto was a painter of urban scenes,  landscapes and figures. He worked in various mediums - drawing, gouache and oil. In 1948/49 he was the only black person included in a touring exhibition of South African Art and this sparked interest in his work abroad. His constant longing for Africa resulted in a pilgrimage to the motherland and between 1967 and 1968 he lived in Senegal. Back in Paris Sekoto continued with his life as an artist and had numerous exhibitions.  Sekoto died and was buried in 1993 in Paris. 

He is seen as one of South Africa's masters and as a member of the New Group formed part of the foundation of the South African History of Art. His works were strongly influenced by his surroundings and works from various periods can be identified: Sopiatown (1938), District Six (1942), Eastwood (1945), Early Paris(1947), St. Annes's psychiatric hospital (1949), Paris(1960's), Senegal (1966), Back to Paris 1967. Works from the Eastwood period are regarded as the culmination of his career as an artist.

Four Figures at a table,  1940-42
Oil on board 
( Unisa Collection )

Woman walking with dog, 1974
Gouache on paper
( Private Collection )

Exhibitions : 

1939 Selborne Hall, ( South African Academy ),  Johannesburg
Gainsborough Galleries,  Johannesburg
First Solo-Exhibition, Marlborough Gallery,  Johannesburg
1940 Selborne Hall, ( South African Academy ),  Johannesburg
Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg
1941 Selborne Hall, ( South African Academy ),  Johannesburg
1942 Duncan Hall, ( South African Academy ),  Johannesburg
1943 Gainsborough Galleries, ( New Group ),  Johannesburg
Salisbury,  Zimbabwe
1944 Argus Gallery, ( New Group ), Cape Town
Gainsborough Galleries, ( Contemporary Art ),  Johannesburg
Jerome Gallery, Cape Town
1945 Cape Town
1946 Gainsborough Galleries, ( Contemporary Art ),  Johannesburg
1947 Solo-Exhibition, Gainsborough Galleries,  Johannesburg
Solo-Exhibition, Christie's Pretoria
1948 Solo-Exhibition, French Overseas Colonial House, Paris
Gainsborough Galleries, ( New Group ),  Johannesburg
1948/50  Tate Gallery, London, Belgium,  France,  Canada,  USA,  
South African National Gallery, Cape Town
1949 Solo-Exhibition,  Galerie Else-Clausen,  Paris
1950 Solo-Exhibition,  Galerie Vincent,  Pretoria
1951 Stockholm, Sweden
1952 Van Riebeeck Exhibition,  Cape Town
1953 Bulawayo,  Zimbabwe
1954 I.D. Booksellers Gallery,  Cape Town
1955 Petit Palais,  Paris
Lawrence Adler Gallery,  Johannesburg
University of the Witwatersrand,  Johannesburg
Galerie Reflets de Paris,  Hôtel du Parc,  Paris
1956 Galerie Art Primier,  Paris
1958 Lawrence Adler Gallery,  Johannesburg
1959 Lawrence Adler Gallery,  Johannesburg
1960 Solo-Exhibition,  Galerie Saint-Placide,  Paris
Salon d'Automme,  Paris
Lawrence Adler Gallery,  Johannesburg
1961 Galleria Santo Stefano,  Venice,  Italy
Adler  Fielding Gallery,  Johannesburg
1962 Adler  Fielding Gallery,  Johannesburg
1963 Morgenster Art dealers
Adler  Fielding Gallery,  Johannesburg
Durban Art Gallery
1964 Adler  Fielding Gallery,  Johannesburg
1965 Adler  Fielding Gallery,  Johannesburg
Piccadilly Gallery,  London
1966 Théâtre Daniel Sorano,  Senegal
Pretoria Art Museum
Adler  Fielding Gallery,  Johannesburg
1967 Théâtre Daniel Sorano,  Senegal
1968 South African Association of Arts,  Pretoria
Solo-Exhibition,  Senegalese Embassy,  Paris
Solo-Exhibition,  Galerie Marthe Nochy, Paris
1969 Solo-Exhibition,  Galerie Christiane,  Paris
1970 Galleri BB,  Denmark
Gallery Randers,  Stockholm,  Sweden
1973 Galerie du Maraias,  Bourges,  France
Pretoria Art Museum
1975 Solo-Exhibition,  Atlantic Art Gallery,  Cape Town
1978 Solo-Exhibition,  Galerie Art Premier,  Paris
1980 Maison  de l'Afrique,  Paris
Johannesburg Art Gallery
Rand Afrikaans University,  Johannesburg
1981 Johannesburg Art Gallery
1984 South African National Gallery,  Cape Town
1986 Academy Gallery,  Paris
Washington, DC., USA
Alliance Française,  Pretoria
1986/87 Johannesburg Art Gallery
1988 Solo-Exhibition,  Cassirer Fine Art,  Johannesburg
South African National Gallery,  Cape Town
Natalie Knight Gallery,  Johannesburg
Johannesburg Art Gallery
1989 Johannesburg Art Gallery
University of the Witwatersrand
Standard Bank Arts Festival,  Grahamstown
Honours and Awards :
1924      Prize for design of Botshabelo Training college badge
1937 Second prize May Esther Bedford Art Competition
1948 Sekoto's painting used on poster for exhibition of South African Art at the Tate Gallery,  London
1959 Sekoto's poster for second Congress of Negro writers and artists in Rome.
1964 Exhibition of African Art,  Nemours,  France 
1968 XIXe Grand Prix International de Peinture de Deauville
1989 Honorary Doctorate by University of the Witwatersrand,  Johannesburg
Collections :
His work is represented in numerous collections world wide including :
Johannesburg Art Gallery
South African National Art Gallery,  Cape Town
University of Fort Hare Collection
University of South Africa Collection,  Pretoria
University of the Witwatersrand
Sowetan Newspaper Collection,  Johannesburg
William Humphreys Art Gallery,  Kimberley
Municipal Collection of the City of Paris

Gerhard Sekoto,  Unsevered Ties, Johannesburg Art Gallery, 1989,  Barbara Lindop,  ISBN 0-620-14213-8

The Dictionary of South African Painters and Sculptors,  Grania Ogilvie,  Published by Everard Read,   ISBN. 0 620 12663 9

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 Miles,  ISBN 0798136588

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