Historical artwork

Historical artwork, often termed africana art, comprises mainly 19th century topographical artworks. Many are lithographic and engraved plate-illustrations from published works by traveller-artists who recorded their fascinating 'discoveries' of indigenous culture, fauna and flora.

WCP Burchell's Kora

The Englishman, William Burchell, for instance, set out on his Cape travels in June 1811, returning in 1815 with some 500 drawings to illustrate his two-volume account,

Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa (London: Longman, Hurst and Co. 1822- 4).

Of these field sketches he says:

"Every additional sketch was, I considered, a triumph over oblivion, and a powerful assistant to recollection." 1

"After making the bargain to give him a large piece of tobacco, he stood patiently and still, till I had finished my drawing; ... (He) wore on his head a piece of leather, bound round... in the manner of a turban; and was clothed with a leathern cloak or kaross, which together with his whole body, were so covered with red ochre and grease, that the part of my wagon against which he leaned was painted... From his neck hung a number of bead necklaces of various colours to which were appended a Bechuana knife, and the shell of a small tortoise to hold snuff or tobacco. His wrist and fore-arm were ornamented with bracelets of beads, cords of acacia-bark, and a broad ivory ring...The countenance and manners of this chief were expressive of a good-natured quiet disposition."

Visual records of the Zulu people during the mid 19th century are represented by a series of hand-coloured lithographs by George Angas, published in The Kafirs Illustrated (London: Hogarth Press. 1849). At the time the Zulu monarch Mpande was on the throne and the artist visited him at his royal homestead Nondwengu. Here he drew the king dressed in his court dress in which he normally received his captains and inspected his cattle herds.

WCP Angas

WCP Angas

There are a number of watercolours by British army officers who were posted to Natal and stationed at Fort Napier in Pietermaritzburg, the headquarters of the 45th Regiment, better known as the Sherwood Foresters.

WCP946 Garden

Captain Robert Garden kept a diary which he illustrated with sketches during his period of duty from 1844 until 1853. Sketch titles like, "Capt. Grantham nearly killed by a wounded buffalo", "The broken axle tree", "A Godsend, Grantham shoots an eland close to camp" and "I lose my way and have to sleep in the open air" evoke the trials and tribulations of life in the then colony of Natal.

Paintings by two men, Major-General Sir Matthew Gosset and Captain Charles Cramer, who served during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, form an interesting contrast to each other.

WCP2499 Gosset WCP2496 Gosset - Krantzkop

Gosset, despite being at the hub of the war as aide-de-camp to the then Major-General Thesiger, afterwards Lord Chelmsford, seldom depicts people but has left a charming record of some ninety-four paintings of small villages like Eshowe, Greytown, Estcourt and Ladysmith and British fortifications like Tenedos, Pearson and Helpmekaar, variously positioned within panoramic views of rolling hills or winding water-courses.

Col. Charles Pierson Cramer, who served with the 3rd Battalion of the 60th Rifles, had the eye of a satirist and his sketches are alive with the detail of war. The battle of Gingindhlovu on 2nd April 1879 is titled, "Here they come!"

WCP2573 Cramer - The prevailing vegetation...

In one sketch he depicts six-foot tall British soldiers dwarfed by nine-foot aloe-plants in a sketch inscribed, "The prevailing vegetation..."
While in another, the captured Zulu king Cetshwayo, whom Cramer was detailed to guard, is shown seated forlornly wrapped in a blanket, underneath Cramer writes, "Alas! a sad farewell to all my greatness!

The collection holds three albums of sketches by Cramer covering his military career from when he attended the academy at Aldershot to his service in the Ashanti War, the Anglo-Zulu War and the Egyptian Campaign of 1882. The Albums are a fascinating insight into the mind of a British army captain at the height of Queen Victoria's Empire. From jingoistic fervour, peppered with class and race prejudice, Cramer's works mature to sedate scenes of the Zanzibar coast and Egyptian pyramids.

  1. Burchell, W. J. Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa London: Longman, Hurst and Co. Volume 2. p 214
  2. Ibid. Volume 1. p 490
  3. Angas, G. F. 1849 The Kafirs Illustrated London: Hogarth Press. PI. 19