Maggie Laubser: Portraits and the Landscape 1886 – 1973

Celebrating Laubser’s creative output, Norval Foundation is presenting an exhibition focusing primarily on the artist as a portrait painter, and her lifelong interest in painting expressive landscapes. Laubser’s remarkable portraits, completed over a lifetime, are curated by Karel Nel as a companion to Norval’s recent Irma Stern exhibition which also focused mainly on portraits done on the island of Zanzibar between 1938 and 1945. These two remarkable women were pioneers in introducing expressionism to a conservative South African art public, and both were received with hostility at the time. 

The portraits hung chronologically, enabling the viewer to reflect on shifts in her style and different influences. The changes in Laubser’s portraits correspond with her visits to various countries in Europe – Britain, Belgium, Italy, and Germany – from 1914 to 1924. During this period, she came home to South Africa a number of times, before her permanent return due to personal and financial circumstances. She first settled in Cape Town and then moved to the farming environment of her childhood in the Malmesbury district.

Norval Foundtion. Maggie Laubser. Portraits and the Landscape: 1886 – 1973.
Courtesy of the Norval Foundation.

Life on the farm had a big influence on her art. In this exhibition, some of the most significant of Laubser’s portraits and landscapes highlight the parallel investigations that she undertook throughout her artistic life. Not ever having the means to return to Europe, Laubser nevertheless retained her commitment as a painter in a cultural environment that ascribed no particular significance to being an artist. Her work of people engaged in lives of herding, harvesting, and fishing engages with the specialness of the ordinary.

The exhibition is on show at Norval Foundation till 30 November 2023.