Maud Frances Eyston Sumner was born in Johannesburg in 1902. She was educated at Rodean School in Johannesburg. Sumner moved to London in 1939, but returned to South Africa in 1941 where she worked in Johannesburg until 1946. Sumner followed a lifelong dream and set off for Paris. She settled on the Ateliers De Art Sacre, because she loved the new style of painting taught by the masters George Desvallieres and his co-founder Maurice Denis, where everyday scenes were permeated with religious undertones.
The fact that she was often abroad separated her from other South African artists of her time. However she was honoured to be personally invited by Walter Battiss to exhibit with the New Group in 1938. In her response to Battiss, she wrote that groups “frightened her” but liked the idea of “improving the South African standard”, and sent works to the exhibition.
Sumner’s deep spirituality was rooted in nature as she often wrote that she found God more easily in nature than in the church. She always included nature in some form in her paintings, particularly her interiors – if it wasn’t in the form of a vase of flowers, there would be at least a view of a landscape through a window. The choice of flowers – particularly the exotic lilies in the centre, may well have come from the lush garden at Ollerset. Her loose brush strokes and the richness of thick impasto paint, give movement and life to the plants. The strange shapes of the green lilies in the glass vase tell of pain and vulnerability, while the softer collection of cornflowers and Japanese anemones in the silver vase speak of purity and innocence.
From1947 to 1953, her religious feelings deepened and she painted a number of sacred subjects as well as carrying out commissions for Church art. Always intelligent, her work became increasingly emotional in later years. Maud Sumner's paintings are represented in every public collection in South Africa as well as being represented in a number of overseas public collections
She had sixteen one-man exhibitions and completed numerous portraits and figure-studies.
She died in 1957 at the young age of 55.
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