Museums & Collections - Anton van Wouw Collection
Anton van Wouw (1862-1945)
Anton van Wouw was born in Driebergen, near Utrecht in the Netherlands on 26 December 1862. He had a thorough training in academic sculpture in Europe, initially through evening classes at the Rotterdam Academie under the guidance of the Flemish architect and artist, Vieillevoye, but later also in the studio of the Belgian sculptor, Joseph Graven (1836-1877). During his student days he undertook visits to Brussels and Paris to view the galleries there. The experience which he gained early in his life as a stucco-worker had a definite influence on his preference for the art of modelling.
Van Wouw and his mother came to South Africa on 1 January 1890, in the hope that he was going to make his fortune as a sculptor here. The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand, the great increase in permanent building projects in Johannesburg, which Van Wouw had most certainly heard of, and the numerous letters to his family from his father and older brother in Pretoria where they had been employed in government posts since 1882, without any doubt strengthened Anton van Wouw's decision to emigrate to the Boer Republic of Transvaal. His father, who was Inspector of Offices under the State Secretary, Dr Leyds, wanted Anton to become involved in the booming building trade in the Transvaal Republic. Since Van Wouw had been trained as a stucco-modeller and concrete caster in Holland, he probably envisaged that he would easily obtain numerous architectural and sculptural commissions from local architects.
However, to his disappointment he soon discovered that there was little work for a professional sculptor in Pretoria at that time. He initially found temporary work in Pretoria as an assistant in a gun shop owned by a Mr H C Miolee, but spent his evenings making drawings and small sculptures.
After six months in the gun shop, the young sculptor decided that he would try to make it on his own and rather devote all his time to his art. He advertised his services as an ornamental sculptor in a local newspaper and obtained a commission from the well-known Pretoria businessman, E F Bourke, to decorate the living room of his new house in Pretoria with painting and stucco-work. This commission led to Van Wouw's first public commission, namely the sculpting of the old Republican coat-of-arms on the pediment of the ’new’ Raadsaal on Church Square in Pretoria. He thus met a number of prominent architects in Pretoria and Johannesburg, who eventually supplied him with numerous architectural commissions. It is known that Van Wouw made sculptural stucco panels for the Old Standard Bank building on Church Square and that this building was designed by Emley and Scott in 1894.
On 3 February 1895 Van Wouw married Suzanna Wilhelmina (Sannie) Celliers, a sister of the poet Jan F E Celliers. Two daughters were born from this union. In April of that year Van Wouw applied for naturalisation so that he could give art lessons at the Staatsmodelskool and the Staatsmeisjeskool in order to have a fixed income. He worked there until October 1896 when he received written confirmation from the well-known Pretoria businessman, Sammy Marks, to proceed with the sculpting of a statue of President Paul Kruger for Pretoria.
Eventually he left for Italy to make the large monument in Rome. It was here that Van Wouw's first wife, Sannie, died of pneumonia.
The Kruger statue, together with the four additional Boer figures, was completed in Rome in 1898 and they were all cast in bronze early in 1899. The sculptures were shipped to Delagoa Bay, but because of the Anglo-Boer War they had to remain in a warehouse of the African Boating Company in Lourenço Marques (Maputo) until after the war. Sammy Marks, who had to pay the storage costs of the sculptures, gave the four Boer figures to Lord Kitchener when he heard from him that permission to erect the monument in Pretoria would never be granted, and the statue of Kruger remained in the warehouse until the war ended. It was only much later, in 1913, that the Kruger statue, without its four Boer figures, was erected in Prinsepark in Pretoria. In 1925 the complete monument was placed in front of the Pretoria Railway station and in 1954 it was finally moved to its present position on Church Square. This monument was really the start of Van Wouw’s career as a sculptor in South Africa.
At that time Van Wouw identified very closely with the nationalist struggle of the Afrikaner, with the result that he was commissioned to make eight large monuments in the then Union of South Africa. Amongst these are the Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein, the ’Onze Jan’ Statue in Cape Town, Louis Botha in Durban, Andrew Murray in Cape Town, President Steyn in Bloemfontein, General Lukin in Cape Town and the Voortrekker Woman and Children in Pretoria. Amongst his best known monumental busts are President M W Pretorius (1905), Judge J Leonard (1911), Dr E P Jorissen (1914), ’Onze Jan Hofmeyr’ (1916), President F W Reitz (1919), J X Merriman (1919), King Khama (1925), General C R de Wet (1926), General Koos de la Rey (1926), Mussolini (1927), Klisser Bernardt (1927), Dr David Draper (1928), General H T Lukin (1930), Dr J S P Stewart (1930), Professor A. Moorrees (1933), Cor Delfos (1935), Judge J W Wessels (1937), Adolf Hitler (1937), Piet Retief (1937), President M T Steyn 1938), General Manie Maritz (1940) and also larger relief panels in Pretoria, Boksburg, Johannesburg and Dundee.
Although he will always be remembered for these larger monuments, it is his smaller statuettes, which show greater aesthetic quality and value. Many of these were made in his studio in Doornfontein in Johannesburg, where he moved in 1906. These statuettes include The Bushman Hunter, Kruger in Exile, Bad News, Nôtjie van die Onderveld, Skapu Player, Dagga Smoker, Shangaan, Sleeping African, Basutu Witness, Hunter Drinking, Mieliepap Eater, Laughing Basutu, and Coffee Drinker.
In 1939, he moved back to Pretoria and settled in Brooklyn in the home designed for him by the well-known architect Norman Eaton. Van Wouw moved into the house in January 1939 with his second wife, whom he married in 1917. He lived and worked there until his death on 30 June 1945.