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Discussion Three: JAG

Discussion Three: JAG

In this episode, Wilhelm van Rensburg (Head Curator & Senior Art Specialist at Strauss & Co Fine Art Auctioneers) speaks to Nel about her years as the Director of the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) between 1966–1977.

 

Frank:

Morning Nel and Wilhelm, and Lizelle. It's lovely to welcome everyone to the next round of our series of conversations with Nell about her life, her work, her thoughts. And today it's fantastic to have Wilhelm van Rensburg, senior art specialist from Strauss and Company, with us. And Wilhelm is going to lead today's discussion with Nel. Suffice it to say that Wilhelm has followed Nel's career over many decades, I'd say, Wilhelm?

 

Wilhelm:

Indeed.

 

Frank:

And he’s a serious fan of your work, Nel. And ja, so we look forward to this conversation this morning. Lizelle and I are going to – unless, Lizelle, you want to say something – leave the two of you to chat. You know each other well, anyway. And we look forward to listening and seeing what you have in mind. So, I don't know if you want to add anything, Nel, and then we can hand over to Wilhelm. I understand you and him have discussed a few questions to run through in this session. So we very much look forward to hearing that.

 

Nel:

It's lovely to see Wilhelm, because I think we've come a long way together, all the way from our university days.

 

Wilhelm:

Indeed, you know, I lived in an apartment, half a block away from the Janice Berg Art Gallery. And I was literally in the Johannesburg Art Gallery every single day of my student years, either on the way to university or on the way back from it. So I have very fond memories of those 1970s days.

Nel, today I want to talk to you about your professional life at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. And I want to start by asking: you started your career as a professional officer at the Johannesburg Art Gallery under the then-director Anton Hendricks in 1957. Why did you decide to become a museum professional and not a full-time professional artist? Or were you both? And what did you learn from Antonio Hendrix? I would want to know.

 

Nel:

You know, when I left Paris in in ‘55, middle of ‘55, I wasn't going to stay in South Africa. My father sent me a ticket, and a train ticket, and boat arrangements –  everything done, because of this time I came and visited them. But I had to find my own way back and I didn't have a penny. So I had to earn a living. I started with the SABC just to earn something. And then my sister recommended I try the art gallery. And I did and it took me a long time before Anton decided to take me on. But it was really worth it. So you see, I landed in <museology?> and he was a good <museological?> teacher. I landed there by wonderful chance, if you could call it that. Now I believe there's nothing that's chance. It all happens. Very planned in a certain way.

 

Wilhelm:

And Anton Hendricks? what was he like, as director? What did you learn from him?

 

Nel:

There was not a day I didn't learn something. He was so knowledgeable and experienced in philosophy, in art history, in general history, in museology; all his tours, all his studies also in America and the contact he had – every day there was something new. By the way, when he asked me, “Why did I want to come there?” I told him that I wanted to learn something. Because I was absolutely thrilled and shocked when I walked in and saw my own teachers’ works hanging on the walls in the “Modern” section.

Wilhelm:

And your teachers? You’re referring to the famous Wits group? Or who were your teachers,and who were your fellow students there?

 

Nel:

No, I'm talking about my teachers in Paris (from Paris, you see?). And I was still very enthusiastic about them all. And I still am. But I'm Anton was a very, very, very strict, very demanding person. But I liked that, because his demands were in the same direction that I was interested in.

 

Wilhelm:

You’ve mentioned Paris twice, Nel. When you were overseas from 1953 to 1955, what museums made the best impression on you, you know, in Paris, in London, and everywhere else?

 

Nel:

You know, in London, and in Paris, there are two major museums: the National Gallery, and the Louvre. They are inexhaustible. So I found my way automatically there every time. But then, of course, in Paris, there were so many galleries and exhibitions to visit. And in Paris, it was mainly the Louvre. Right from the sculpture of the Assyrians right up to, well, all the paintings of the 18th century. And the <French word; can’t interpret> was then in the <French word; can’t interpret>.They're close to the Eiffel Tower. And that was a place I kept visiting, because it had <artist name> and those people that one wanted to see. But besides that the <French words; can’t interpret> in Paris was a wonderful place, too. It had all the Oriental art, drawings, paintings, sculpture, ceramics and such things. And I usually found my way to those things. And my friends (my two friends who helped me all along – we were together working), they all wanted to go there. And so it was wonderful. It was great.

 

Wilhelm

And back in South Africa, you know, you walked into the famous Edwin Ludgin's building. That is, the Johannesburg Art Gallery. What is the allure of that wonderful building? What makes it so special in Johannesburg?

 

Nel

You know, that building has a history of it’s own. It's been through so many phases and ideas and ideals and shortcomings. It's a bit of history in itself. Lady Phillips wanted <Luctions?>. Okay, <Luctions?> came, he did his things. Lady Phillips wanted it to be a copy of Hamp –  not Hampton Court, which is? –  Anyway! It was a brick building, one of the British houses/museums. It was a brick building with sandstone corners. But lady Phillips never achieved that, because there was a city councillor who had a sandstone quarry with the result that lady Phillips's big museum was never finished. And that shortage of space went right through until now. So we could never employ staff. Not that the city council would have allowed us, because I begged for that often. But there was no space either. So ja. And then afterwards – you see, that building is in the wrong position, too. Until Hendricks fought for it not to be the gallery for the future collections. Because when the trains pass, it rattles the building and it’s too small. How do you enlarge it? You can't use any of the park. You must go across the railway line (to access the gallery). It's costly. And then the rattling trains are still there. So he started the buying of land to build a new museum. And he managed we had a beautiful stand on the ridge there, very close to the big hospital. But then we realized it was not very big, because the Pieter Roos Park became a part of it. And it would have been wonderful to have the museum in this big park, well-situated in the educational belt. And ja, so that was sold. And we planned for the Pieter Roos Park, but the building wasn't sold immediately. No –  I'm sorry, I don't mean the building, I mean the land there close to the hospital. It was still there. But the plans were now going to be for Pieter Roos Park.

 

Wilhelm  (12:40)

Okay, ja. So when you then became acting director in ‘64, and full time director in 1966, you basically inherited two major collections. You know, you mentioned lady Florence Phillips. And she of course, together with Sir <You Lane?> put together a wonderful – famous, in fact, world famous – collection of impressionist and post-impressionist British and French art. And then I think the other big collection you inherited was the Dutch 17th century collections. How did you work with those things you “inherited” (so to speak)?

 

Nel

Ja, the Dutch 18th… was it the 18th century?

 

Wilhelm

17th century. The Dutch 17th century collection.

 

Nel  (13:30)

That was really the <Houdhakker?> collection. That is what Anton got from <Houdhakker?>. But the French part – there was one <French name>, one <French name>, and so forth – it was lovely to have. And on that, when the <Cassirer Collection> came in (locally known in Johannesburg as the
“Hague Collection” because it came from Holland. They were trying to get it out of Germany during the war), then it was housed, on a long loan, in the Johannesburg gallery. And that made a beautiful show of that whole impressionist school. But later on, it was removed, and I don't know what happened to it. I then went on a trip to Europe once and I got off the train at Cologne to see a few things. And there I saw those things, portraits, and other very wonderful things that are used to carry myself because Anton wouldn't allow just anybody to carry those pictures. We had to be very careful.

 

Wilhelm

So of course, you know, you inherited those big collections, but you also had your own vision for the museum. What was your acquisition policy in the beginning, you know, when you took over the reins?

 

Nel

You know, I didn't really have such a special vision. I followed on what had happened before and just building it out and trying to keep up content in a contemporary way. That really summarizes it. I forgot to mention that quality was one of the big things in Anton's approach. And I like that also, so I tried for quality where possible. But you your your question was about…?

 

Wilhelm

Ja, your acquisition policy in terms of South African art, but also European art.

 

Nel

Oh, ja. Now you mentioned something which most people never understood. You know, the Johannesburg Art Gallery started as a collection showing – well, okay – the European section of the population came from. The National Gallery was showing South African art. It also had British collection and so forth. The policies that were followed were that Johannesburg tries to keep up with not South African art, but other art, from France and from England. And the National Gallery concentrates on South Africa art that is now built into the collection. Although Anton decided that, no, we must have under the same roof, possibilities of comparisons and similarities. So he did start the South African collection. That was not the idea in the beginning. And that's something that went through until more was produced in South Africa. And then there was a greater demand to show them and have them in buy them so that collection grew considerably.

 

Wilhelm

I think, in my mind, the two biggest contributions under your directorship, certainly for me is the manner in which you built out the collection of the School of Paris, the <insert French Name> , and later on the colour field paintings. So tell us about those two big parts that you contributed to significantly.

 

Nel

You know, somebody wrote (I’ve forgotten her name now) the history of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Well, I certainly didn't read it all. But there were some mistakes made there. Because I did not start this European model collection. As I said, the other day when I walked into that gallery, I saw them there, they were there. The beauty is that there were <artist name> pictures, <artist name>, <artist name> and so forth. And on to that came later people <artist name>, <artist name>, and <artist name>. And I was so, so, so, pleased to see them all. So what was left went to sale, and it became all the more and more expensive. The idea was, “Nel, continue and see what you can do”. So when I went to America on invitation (from the State Information Office), I met up again with Clint Greenberg. And he assisted me very much so that I could buy the Frankenthaler and the <artist name> to keep up with trends as they developed. Because let us not forget: in the 60s – certainly 50s and 60s – and the very earliest 70s, travel was not as general as you'd come to know it in later years. Many people could never go to Europe to see these works. So it was a good reason to buy them and have some good examples here. Although not many, but if they’re good, two good pictures could do a lot.

 

Wilhelm

Certainly. I think you also then focused on developing the print collection.

 

Nel

Oh, that is the jewel of the collection. It is so rich. It has the most wonderful <remberance?> that came from <Howard Tim?> .He gave his collection to us way back in the early 30s (I think it was the early 30s? Yes.) And onto that, Anton built, miraculously, the French school. We couldn't afford the <insert name> , and we couldn't afford the paintings by the contemporaries then. Because remember, Picasso was still alive, <artist name> was still alive (all these people), but you couldn't afford their pictures. But you can afford their graphics. And these graphics, now, I don’t know what prices they go for. So it is so rich, it is so wonderful. I hope it is still in good condition.

 

Wilhelm

Nel, I'm sure. And apart from the prints, you also launched the sculpture garden in 1971.

 

Nel

Ah, ja, that's right. Because where the sculpture garden was, was between the two unfinished wings. And there, we put up a railing. By the way, there was a floral clock that would show you the time. (I don't know, you might have seen it). But then we didn't worry with the floral clock. The head of the arts department was very, very close with us. But the land did belong to us, and that became the sculpture garden. It was accessed from the two wings. I think it worked very nicely. Only a few pieces, but we didn't need any more.

 

Wilhelm

There is a wonderful picture of you installing one of the sculptures there and I will pass it on to Jesse so that she can put it into the slideshow. Because I think it's truly really wonderful.

 

Nel

Everything and everyone had to suffer when she had to be moved. Oh, we would all know!

 

Wilhelm

Nel, you did allude to it, but tell us about the international study tour you undertook together with the Johannesburg chief architect, Mr. Buchanan Smith in 1968. You visited museums in Europe, in Israel, in the US, and the trip entered in Mexico. Tell us about that wonderful trip. Sounds magnificent.

 

Nel

That took a great deal of preparation because we first had to find out where the most recently built museums are. Because after the war, there was much building and going on. And many castles were turned into museums. Like, Milan has a beautiful one that I forgot. Anyway. Then we went on this tour together; that was also quite a bit of action. But there were some counsellors in the council at the time that were very, very supportive of the gallery. I could name three straight away. They were always helping. So we started in Israel, the sculpture garden in Israel. The whole place was just new then. How you would proceed from the open garden to this, to the four-walled garden and then eventually into the building, and so on: very impressive. And we went to Louisiana because Louisiana was also in a park. And then we came back, went right through Europe.

 

Wilhelm

Louisiana is of course, close to Copenhagen.

 

Nel

That’s right. And that museum was a little bit out of town in a park, very much like what we would have liked. It would have been possible in Pieter Roos Park. Then, from there, we went to America, starting in Los Angeles and going up to New York and also the West Coast, but finishing in Mexico City because it was the UNESCO conference in Mexico City. That museum was a jewel: huge, mostly sculpture, Mexican sculpture. But it is almost in a courtyard idea with sections. So it was a lovely place. And everywhere…

 

Wilhelm

I'm sure you saw there Diego Riviera murals.

 

Nel

There was not much time to see all that because the conference meetings all the time and things were very interesting. But yes, we did. And I wanted to mention something else, which slipped my mind.

 

Wilhelm

Okay, so let's get on to the manner in which you see the educational task of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. What did you do? Did you do lectures? Walkabouts? Tell us a little bit about your approach to education.

 

Nel

Yes. Whenever a group asked, I took – because there was no staff don't forget that –  I would take them personally. That happened to children, to grownups, and it depended on how often they asked. It became known, and they asked more and more. But there was no possibility of having an assistant to do that at the time. Later on, I got two assistants. I would have liked two at the time, but to bus in students was also difficult because of transport issues. If you think about it now, it's laughable. But anyway, it was very possible but council wasn't interested in assisting there. I think it's very important that lectures be given, and that people come on tours, more specifically, because lectures in front of the picture is so much more worthy, as you well know. No, I'm sorry, we could never do much as far as education is concerned. We had beautiful evening musical concerts, you know, chamber music and such things (also not that frequently). But when they happened, they were very nice indeed.

 

Wilhelm

Now of course, you know, I have to ask you about the Picasso, Harlequin. Tell us that story.

 

Nel  (26:56)

Yes, you know that story. Every morning arriving in the gallery, I’d think “What next?” The beautiful pieces I remember were from <name>, because there I made the main page (leader page) right at the bottom. In one sentence he said, “A smoker’s opinion for breakfast”. So every day there were new things. We had a big pack of cuttings from newspapers and so on. But see, the positive approach was definitely very supportive. But the other was far more healing. But that Picasso had a grave effect on the Johannesburg Art Gallery. I think, yes: perhaps I should just tell you now. The then major councillor, the boss of Johannesburg’ (you may remember who he was), was very insulted by the purchase of Picasso. He couldn't imagine that we could have bought a thing like that. And that stayed with him until after my departure from the museum in 1977. If you want an interesting story, please speak to Christopher Till. He told us at a meeting at Strauss and company, a wonderful story about Mr. <name> who had very, very serious grudges about that picture. And that actually led to the piece of land which was arranged for the new gallery, which was in between Pieter Roos Park and the present gallery that he sold that he sold that year, and he was powerful. He saw to it that it was sold. The money didn't come to art gallery, it went to the Africana museum. And ja, that was it.

 

Wilhelm

And didn’t he then also Commission a sculpture afterwards?

 

Nel

He did. “The Miner” – I think he swings an axe or something. A huge, huge sculpture.

 

Wilhelm

And that is now just adjacent to the East Gate Shopping Mall in in Johannesburg. I think probably out of sheer spite, if you ask me. But let's leave it at that. Okay, so apart from the manner in which you built out the permanent collection, you were also very active in terms of temporary exhibitions, changing exhibitions. What are some of the highlights? What are some of the most memorable exhibitions that you mounted at the Johannesburg Art Gallery over the years?

 

Nel

Ja, there were wonderful shows. There was the French tapestry exhibition. It was huge. We had to clear so many of the rooms for it. All the famous names, I’ve forgotten some of them, but they were all there from – what’s that place France? Ag, doesn't matter. Anyway. And with the collection came one of the staff of the museum. And it was great, because they were many talks about it. And it also went to other places. I think it went to Bloemfontein as well.

It was really an event. We had to have a very important opening, then they could lecture and talk about it, which was wonderful.

 

Wilhelm

Ja. And if I'm not mistaken, the Rembrandt Foundation was also involved in it.

 

Nel

That's right. I don’t really remember details there, sorry.

 

Wilhelm

I think they also sponsored the catalogue. I still have a copy of the catalogue somewhere. And from time to time, they do exhibit those tapestries at the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch. I believe the majority of those tapestries which belong to them are actually in London, but I'm not too sure. What other exhibitions can you think of?

 

Nel  (~32:00)

The <artist name> exhibition was great. That was quite a difficult undertaking, because it had to be insured for vast amounts. And to get the council to help there, that was tricky. But somehow, they managed. And we had to go personally to the airport –  you know, the security then wasn't like now, and you didn't have security companies. We were responsible. The Secretary and I went to the airport, and we followed them to the museum (you’d be amazed!). But it was very nice. We felt very, very happy to have those things. And then, of course – now I’ve forgotten the name. <artist name> was involved though. He didn't come himself. But… sorry, that other name is gone. But he came and he came more than once. And he also talked lots about it. And we had a grand opening. So it was one of those big events. We got a few nice letters from the public about it.

 

Wilhelm

Oh, wonderful. Because I also have that catalogue that you produced at that stage. So maybe it might be an idea to get the image to Jesse so that she can slip it into the interview when she edits it. Because I remember that exhibition quite well. And then I think there was also in 1968 didn't you also do the Irma Stern retrospective? It was a was a traveling exhibition. Irma Stern, 1968.

 

Nel

My goodness. Well, now you’ve reminded me of something! Sorry, I don't remember. As with other South African artists, it was regular. We always try and sell them all.

 

Wilhelm  (34:46)

If I go through the list, there are quite a few illustrious South African artists there: Adolf <Jensch?> in 1966, Fritz <Kramper?> in 1967, Ruth <Praus?> in 1968, Maggie Laubscher in ’69, Hugo Naude in the same year; and in ‘73 Peter Jennings, ‘74 Moses <Kotler?>, so you really had the big guns there.

 

Nel

It's so nice to hear you remembering them so well!

 

Wilhelm

And a very special one, I think, was in 1972, the <El Greco?>. Tell us about that exhibition if you can remember.

 

Nel

I don't remember such an exhibition. I'm sorry.

 

Wilhelm

The Johannesburg Art Gallery actually owned one, an <El Greco?>, if I'm not mistaken?

 

Nel

That's right. That I can remember. Are you sure it was an exhibition?

 

Wilhelm

Sort of. It's listed in one of the histories. I have three histories of the Johannesburg Art Gallery and it's listed in there as an exhibition. But be that as it might be that as it may. I'm glad that the Johannesburg Art Gallery is fortunate to have <El Greco?>, in its collection.

 

Nel

Yes. I wish it was still there.

 

Wilhelm

Yes, too true. And so in 1976, just the year before you retired from the Johannesburg Art Gallery, you again visited America and Spain. And again, I want to know about the museums that made an impression on you during those two trips to America and to Spain.

 

Nel

I was impressed by the museum in Los Angeles. I’ve forgotten what it's called.

 

Wilhelm

It's probably the County Museum of Los Angeles. That's the big one.

 

Nel

I'm trying to remember the name of one of the abstract artists of America that was shown there… it will come to me later.

 

Wilhelm

There is Sam Francis who used to live in Los Angeles. Maybe it's him? He was an abstract expressionist.

 

Nel

I really don’t recall…sometime, it will come back. Let’s carry on.

 

Wilhelm

Okay, ja.  So talking about your trip to a 1976. I take it it was a private tour. It doesn't sound like an official one. But because you're a museums person, I'm just wondering what museums you visited. You mentioned the Los Angeles County Museum there. What other museums struck you as important?

 

Nel

In New York there are new museums. Again, if you say the names I will remember them but when we were there they had just been opened.

 

Wilhelm

Ja. At that stage, the museum that were open were the Museum of Modern Art, at the Guggenheim (for many years). But the museum that opened about that time was the Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue designed by, <Broyer?>. Maybe that's the new one you're thinking about?

 

Nel

There was still another one as well, but I can’t remember now.

 

Wilhelm

And in Spain, perhaps? When you visited Spain?

 

Nel

Spain was a private trip, but America was a State Information trip. And that's how I also went down to Arizona. And I was interested in seeing the <Anchora Shanti?>, but that didn't work out. Architects wanted to build this city of 300 000 people, in just one city. But it didn’t work out. They were producing beautiful copper <bells?> where people walked, and so on.  They made nice things, but it didn't succeed. Unlike the American trip, the Spanish one was more personal. And I also met some painters, <>, in <Cuenca?>. The museum you have in Cuenca – that is a lovely little museum. Beautiful and small, but quality. Nicely situated, presently presented also. And then of course, the garden and the annex. What is the annex called again? Ah, never mind. These experiences… you can ever exhaust them!

 

Wilhelm

Too true. So, in 1977 you when you retired, you passed on the baton to Pat Senior, who was director between 1977 and 1983. What advice did you give her as the future director after you?

 

Nel

Perhaps I didn’t give her enough advice because she had been with me for a number of years and so well. I had full confidence in her. And I should have warned her more because she decided, “Let's try and be cooperative with that difficult counsellor”. And that was no the right thing to do. He just used that opportunity to become more powerful. With politicians, that’s the problem. They can mean very well, but they can cause a lot of problems as well.

 

Wilhelm

I think, if I'm not mistaken, she was instrumental in starting. It might be under your reign: the Guest Artists Series that ran for a good ten years.

 

Nel

Oh yes, that's right. She started that and that's what I'm wanting to mention to you as well. After my efficient trip to America (excuse me jumping back in time as this reminds me of something), I started the Friends of the Johannesburg Art Gallery.Because <Dr Salomon?> was the great mover behind The Friends. She told me one day – she invited me to lunch and she said, “I'm inviting you for a very indecent occasion: I'm going to ask you to start The Friends of the Johannesburg Art Gallery.”
Because I said, “Well certainly, fine. But we’ve got no space to house them or nothing of much use to them. But certainly, I’ll do  it. And that’s how it started. But yes, the other thing you mentioned about that was…?

 

Wilhelm

The guest artists. And by the way, I also joined the Friends of the Johannesburg Art Gallery at the time and the annual subscription was five, Rand. And we got beautiful annual reports, beautifully prepared. So I remember that quite well. But I wanted to ask you about the Guest Artist Series of exhibitions.

 

Nel

Yes, yes. I think Pat did very well there. She really showed what was happening in Johannesburg at the time. Because it was one after the other. She even made too.

 

Wilhelm

Were you also one of the guest artists there? Because I remember seeing exhibitions of <Tess Nel?> who died at the beginning of the year, <Claude Van Lingen?>, <Bill Bissiker?> . They were all part of that series of projects.

Nel

Ah yes. And Pat was very good at displaying younger content, which was very nice.

 

Wilhelm

Great, great. And then, after her tragic death, it was Christopher Till. Did you work with him at all? Did you know him well, or not?

 

Nel

I didn’t know him at all. I met him sometimes at a dinner or something.

 

Wilhelm

OK. And then if you had to say, where is the Johannesburg Art Gallery today?

 

Nel

I cannot answer that one. Whenever I went there in later years I came away so depressed that I couldn’t visit it anymore.  So I cannot tell you where it is at the moment. I've heard stories that are not very nice about the building that’s been giving in. Perhaps getting stories was the wrong approach. But what can we do? I only hope that there is some future for the gallery because it certainly did and I’m sure, does still house very, very worthwhile things. And it would be such a delight to see something positive happening there, as with all museums these days. Support them, and work with them. I am pleased that you are often speaking on these zoom meetings and things about museums. I think that is so constructive.

 

Wilhelm

Ja, indeed. OK, Nel,  those are all my questions. If you want to add something, something I left out or forgot to ask you, you are welcome to.

 

Nel

Well, I would like to just say to you that Anton Hendricks was so important in this Johannesburg Art Gallery. He took it from the moment where the previous directors would use antique furniture that the mining magnates gave to the gallery, in their homes. And sometimes the antiques would be there, sometimes they’d not. He built it into a mezzanine and built up a fantastic library, a reference library filled with books that you just cannot get hold of anymore. . And we tried, always, to continue building that. It took time to work through the query lists and so forth. But we tried, even though we were short-staffed. But in later years, after the building had been and there was some space, then the Johannesburg Art Gallery got a wonderful librarian who really put that place in top order. She really knew her books; she was outstanding. I visited that library often.

 

Wilhelm

And I just remembered, when you mentioned furniture –  I also recall that one of the aspects of Florence Phillips Collection was a collection of lace work. She always intended to have what is known as an industrial type of school where people, especially women, could be trained in some handmade skills and craft work. And the lace collection also ended at the Johannesburg art gallery, if I'm not mistaken. And it's interesting that you mentioned the tapestry, which is also like a textile art, so to speak.

 

Nel

Yes, it is a lovely collection. If you’re interested in lace, you must go there. But maybe something like that could happen after come back to a new normal (after COVID-19 lockdown), because there’s such talent in the local people. And it's wonderful. It’s mind and hands together and it’s lovely. So, let’s help. In the olden days, they used to call it “Applied Arts”.
There was this lace collection, when the <Van Tulberg?> collection became available. And it was going on sale. Then, Anton Hendrick bought the most beautiful, really good selection of Oriental ceramics, which should still be there. And it is really various periods represented with perfect examples, because the <Van Tulberg?> collection was really good. I personally bought, on sale, three pieces, too. And I fell in love with them.

 

Wilhelm

I think that most of the <Van Tulberg?> collection then landed up at Pretoria University, if I'm not mistaken. But I'm very pleased to hear about the ceramic.

 

Nel

Oh, yes. You will enjoy them.

 

Wilhelm

OK, that's all the questions I have. It was certainly great to talk to you and to hear your recollections of the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

 

Nel

Thank you, Wilhelm. Thank you very much.

 

Moderator

Thanks very much, Wilhelm.

 

Unknown Speaker

It has been most interesting to listen to the two of you. Thank you.

 

Moderator

Okay. Is there anything else that you would like to ask, Lizelle, or that you would like to say, Nel before we wrap up for today?

Nel

I think we’ve covered quite a lot. There are a few things that I’d forgotten that I could’ve mentioned, but if they’re not there, they’re not there. They’ll come back later.

 

Moderator

Well, we can always go back to Nel. But maybe you can tell us just a little bit about the painting that you've got next to you there, because I'm sure you and Jessie put that up with a reason today so if you could position the camera a little bit, Jessie, so we can see what picture Nel has got there. And in the last five minutes, Nel can maybe just tell us really quickly about the specific picture on her left.

 

Jessie

I’m struggling a bit here because that artwork is blue and it's beautifully contrasting the orange here… OK, got it.

 

Moderator

All right, fantastic. Nel, as I said, we can always come back if there are more things that you want to tell us about that time in your life. Twenty years: quite a long time.

 

Nel

It was nearly twenty-one

 

Moderator

It must have been interesting to be a practicing artist on the one hand, and also a curator and working in the Johannesburg Art Gallery on the other hand. Was that difficult for you, or could you keep the two personas apart easily?

Nel

Up to 1964, I worked a lot. Every night, every weekend, on my own work. But after ’64 it became more and more difficult, and I only had certain nights and certain weeks to work. So that determined how much I could do. But before ’64, I remember that at one stage I used a lot of <tempera?> because it dried quickly. And <gwash?>; it dried quickly. And I stopped using paints that took too slow to dry.

 

Moderator

Okay. And in your time, there was a – I guess an artist is always, in one or another way, in conversation with other artists. They are part of movements. Whether you want to or not, your work will be categorized in a broad category, even if just abstract versus realist. But do you think in those days (when you were actually working in the gallery and that sort of thing), was there anything that happened that made you think that you should maybe change direction? Or even go deeper in a particular direction? Or was is always in your own mind that where you wanted to go as an artist was separate from everything?

 

Nel

I think to a great extent it was separate from the group. Because I wanted to get to know how I can use the medium, how I can use the language, the technique. That was pretty basic because I wanted something beyond the closed object. That closure and that isolation disturbed me a lot. I wanted to find out how I could get to the essence of a thing, and for that I know I had to learn more about the technical side. I’m not a really technical person. The language, visual language. How could I use it? But then, when certain emotional difficulties presented themselves, and I was just wanting to call that out. Then I’d just go and paint. So the lamps, the rose, the crucifixion, and all those things. So it's really two things. I pursued the one direction while doing the other expressive things as well.

 

Moderator

I think it's obviously not just an intellectual pursuit. It's very much also an emotional and very personal pursuit to be an artist.

 

Nel

I think they just knit into one another, yes.

 

Moderator

It would have been interesting to think, maybe if you can remember, the questions that Wilhelm asked about a certain politician’s view of certain of your acquisitions, specifically the Harlequin. But in those sorts of times, do you think you sometimes painted your frustrations of the job away, or was it was it never an outlet for those professional irritations?

 

Nel  (55:39)

No because I worked with such good things. And the goodness of the things compensated for the problems with certain people in certain moments. That’s how it worked. It makes me think of one day, there was an exhibition of local young artists (something like The Transvaal Arts Society), and Anton was judging it with me. So at the end of the day we were pretty tired with the many things. For example, one day he pulled me into his office and he said,
“Come, let us unpack this <Yench?>.” It had arrived during the course of the day. And when he opened the box and he took out the <Yench?>, it was so lovely. And he said, “You see how one good picture can wipe out many lesser pictures?”.
So working with good things all the time compensated for a lot of the unpleasant things.

 

Moderator

I must say, that's one of the wonders of being a collector. There are some days when some paintings that you see just bring a smile to your face, and will make you feel good about the day. I think that's it from my side, Jessie and Nel. We've used up the hour. I don’t know if Lizelle wants to add anything?
Wilhelm, thank you so much. That's it from my side, unless Nel or Lizelle wants to add something. But that was very interesting. Thank you, Nel. And thanks, Wilhelm.

 

Wilhelm

It was a great pleasure. I enjoyed doing it.

 

Lizelle

Thank you for an exceptionally lovely and interesting session.

 

Moderator

And thank you, Nel. Thank you, Jessie. We’ll catch up with you all again on Thursday. And Wilhelm, you’re always welcome to dial in again if you want to. Stay safe and warm, Nel, and we’ll see you on Thursday.

 

Nel; Lizelle; Audience

Thank you. Bye.

 

END OF AUDIO