Elenor Esmonde-White

UCT students eat their meals every day in a dining hall decorated by herself and her students in the 50’s after she founded the School of Design at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, where she lectured for 12 years.

She won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London 1930 and one of her first works was a commission from Sir Herbert Baker to decorate walls of the new SA Embassy in Trafalgar Square. The murals used egg tempura- an egg yolk, water and powder colour mix and took three years to complete, depicting rural life in Kwa Zulu Natal. Eleanor was born and educated in Dundee in that province and her painting reflects her childhood memories, focusing on women going about their daily tasks. Mostly her subject matter was women.

Eleanor was a brilliant graphic artist – a great draughtsman. Everything she did was structurally sound and this translated into her oils and her woodcuts in particular, which are exceptionally sought after.

She was a dedicated artist first and foremost. She married briefly but that broke up and she returned to Cape Town. She was a beautiful woman incidentally. She enjoyed the theatre and liked painting ballet dancers. In a quiet way she was a feminist and ahead of her time but never strident or aggressive in her beliefs. She was a gentle, sympathetic and well-like person. Her colours were secondary, low key and she used very few but they were brilliantly mixed.”
The bulk of Eleanor’s works are in private hands, although the National Gallery has a few paintings.

Tags: Elenor Esmonde-White

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