W.H. COETZER [ 1900 – 1983 ]
In 1912 WILLEM HERMANUS COETZER began to contribute to family income by making sketches, which his mother coloured in. In 1917 he was trained as a coach-builder at Johannesburg Trade School. He continued in this trade for eight years and studied painting by correspondence with the Press Art School in London. In 1925 Willem Coetzer went to London to study art but, lacking sufficient money to enter an art school, he trudged around the museums making pencil copies of famous compositions. He then returned to South Africa and painted in his spare time. In 1928, along with Alfred Palmer, Ernest Lezard and Edward Roworth, he held an exhibition in Johannesburg on which he sold enough works to afford to return to London. Between 1928 and 1930, through Palmer’s influence, he was admitted to Regent Street Polytechnic, where he won a prize for his painting “The Dusty Shelf”, now in the Johannesburg Art Gallery. He then traveled around Europe on a bicycle, covering 3 000 miles at a total expenditure of R18.
In 1930 Willem Coetzer returned to South Africa where he began to enjoy an Afrikaner following. In 1934, despite his English education, he became very conscious of his Afrikaans heritage and resolved to portray the history and spirit of Afrikanerdom in his art. He returned to Europe and spent nine months studying figure-drawing and painting. He began collecting Africana and conducting research into the history and life of the Voortrekker period; he visited people and places connected with this history and became an expert on costume and equipment of the period. In 1938 Willem Coetzer designed the Great Trek Commemorative Postage Stamps and in 1947 he published ‘My Kwas Vertel’, a book of his sketches and designs relating to South African historical subjects. In 1948 he was a co-founder with WE Gladstone Solomon of Brush and Chisel Club and designed the marble friezes and tapestries for the National Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. In 1965 Willem Coetzer was awarded a Special Gold Medal by the South African Akademie in recognition of his historical work. In 1969 he presented his complete oeuvre of 800 etchings to the City of Johannesburg. In 1980 there was a widespread tribute on his 80th birthday. In the same year he published his autobiography, ‘WH Coetzer 80’.
BY: Berman, E.
BORN: Tarkastad, Eastern Cape, South Africa, 1900.
DIED: Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa, 1983.
Training: 1917: Trained as a coach builder at Johannesburg Trade School. 1925: Could not afford to study at art school, so went to London and did drawings in the museums there. 1928 –1939: Regent Street Polytechnic, London. 1934: Studied etching at the Central School of Art, London.
Selected Exhibitions: 1928: Pastel exhibition at Lezard’s, Johannesburg. 1948: South African Art, Tate Gallery, London; 1952: Van Riebeeck Tercentary Exhibition; 1970: Retrospective exhibition of historical paintings, Rand Afrikaans University; 1974: Retrospective exhibition of Still Life paintings.
Awards: 1980: Honorary Doctor of Philosophy, University of the Orange Free State. 1989: Cape Art Medal of the SA Association of Arts. 1965: SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns award for his historical work.
Collections: Iziko SA National Gallery; Johannesburg Art Gallery; Pretoria Art Museum; Collection of HM Queen Elizabeth II, United Kingdom; Rembrandt Art Foundation; Durban Art Gallery; Hester Rupert Art Museum, Graaff-Reinet.
Berman, E. 1994. Art & Artists of South Africa. Southern Book Publishers.