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William Humphreys Art Gallery


6 December 1890, First golf competition at the Kimberley Golf Club.
6 December 1890, Dr JE Mackenzie sets the golf course record of 98.
6 December 1952, The William Humphreys Art Gallery opened by Harry Oppenheimer.

Mr Harry Oppenheimer opened, or laid many foundation stones of, many buildings in Kimberley and the Northern Cape. One of the most illustrious of these, apart from “Harry Oppenheimer House”, is the (formerly) highest graded art museum in South Africa, the William Humphreys Art Gallery, which was officially opened by Harry Oppenheimer on 6 December 1952 in the new Kimberley Civic Centre area.


Harry Oppenheimer

He opened the building after receiving the key to the main door from the architect Mr Cliffie Timlin.


Inside the William Humphreys Art Gallery

“In establishing this gallery, not only do we have to thank Mr [William] Humphreys for his generosity, but for the beauty and culture that he has brought to Kimberley and to the Northern Cape”, said Mr Oppenheimer. “We want to make comparisons between other countries and also other centuries. In this gallery, we will have this opportunity.”

Mr Oppenheimer continued, saying it was important that there should be a gallery of this sort. In the field of art, South Africa was somewhat isolated from the rest of the world, and Kimberley was isolated in South Africa. It was therefore important that the gallery be looked after, and he hoped that the people of Kimberley would take it to their hearts and increase the popularity and scope of the building.

(Below from the website of the William Humphreys Art Gallery, with some minor changes)

The history of the art gallery and its collection, may be traced back to well before 1952 when the art gallery first opened its doors to the public. Kimberley was fortunate in having, even in its early days, men with foresight and an appreciation of things other than the purely material. The history of the city’s cultural organisations in the early years of the 20th century was the Kimberley Athenaeum, formed to promote all aspects of culture in a town which was geographically divorced from the main stream of the South African cultural activity.


William Humphreys

The art section of the Kimberley Athenaeum was particularly active. Under the chairmanship of Mr William Timlin, assisted by the secretary, Mr Arthur Pett, the idea was conceived of collecting South African works of art which, which it was hoped, would one day grace the walls of an art gallery in Kimberley. Over a period of almost forty years this collection, which included the work of such pioneers of South African paintings as Frans Oerder, Pieter Wenning, J.H Pierneef, Nita Spilhaus, Clement Sénèque, and William Timlin himself, was brought together. When the Kimberley Athenaeum was disbanded in 1940s the collection of artworks was given in trust to the Kimberley City Council and eventually found a permanent home in the art gallery of which these two men had dreamed so many years before.

The second collection to find a home in the art gallery was that bequeathed to the city by Dr Max Greenberg, a Johannesburg physician who had been educated at Christian Brothers’ College in Kimberley. This collection, which comprised 55 works of art, included paintings by Pieter Wenning, Frans Oerder, J.H Pierneef, and Gregoire Boonzaier, and four bronzes by Anton van Wouw and one by Moses Kottler. Held in trust for the city by the Kimberley City Council, these were initialy displayed in the Kimberley Public Library until, on completion of the art gallery building, they were permanently housed there. Some years later, trusteeship of the collection was formally transferred to the Art Gallery Council.

The last and most magnificent collection in the art gallery was that given by Mr William Benbow Humphreys, then Member of Parliament for Kimberley. The deed of donation was signed on 15 October1948 by William Humphreys and the president and the secretary of the Northern Cape Technical College states that William Humphreys in consideration of his long association with the public life of the Northern Cape and his desire to further the interests of he said region gave to the college pictures and other works of art which were selected from his private collection by Mr P Anton Hendricks, then director of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. With this gift, which comprised painting by Flemish and Dutch masters of the 16th and 17th centuries, paintings by English and French painters as well as pieces of antique furniture and other objets d’art, was an undertaking by Mr Humphreys to contribute a sum of £5000 which would be paid to the college when required for the construction of a suitable gallery to house the collection.

This donation was a paramount importance because of its composition and because the gift was coupled with the condition that a suitable building be constructed to accommodate the collection. This put the onus on a recognized, established, and government-funded body to bring such a project to fruition. Had this not been so, it is likely that the Humphreys Bequest would have continued to hang indefinitely on the walls of the Northern Cape Technical Collage.

In addition to these large collections, many excellent works of art have been donated to the art gallery over the years.

The art gallery, although an appendage of the Northern Cape Technical College, was run independently by its own committee with Mr Humphreys at the helm of affairs in his capacity as chairman of the Art Gallery Committee. In the absence of professional ad clerical staff, he managed the gallery with the help of his son Basil, sub-committees to attend to such matters as finance, the acquisition of works of art and temporary exhibitions, as well as many enthusiastic and able volunteers.

So keen an interest did William Humphreys take in the development of “his” art gallery that he frequently brought from his home in Carrington Road additional works of art to fill gaps and enhance the collection already there. Eventually this large collection, similar in composition to the bequest, became known as the Humphreys Loan Collection and added to the stature of the gallery.

On his death in July 1965, the loan collection was, with the concurrence of his brother and sisters, bought from William Humphreys’ estate by Basil Humphreys and given to his son Anthony to ensure that it would be retained in Kimberley. During this period, it was known as the Anthony Humphreys Loan Collection. Some five years after Basil’s death in 1971, the art gallery was again in danger of losing the collection when it was offered for sale. Neither the institution nor the Department of National Education had funds available to purchase it and an approach was made to De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd to come to the aid of the art gallery.

With customary generosity, they bought the collection and in 1977 an agreement was signed by the company and the Art Gallery Council wherein it was agreed that, subject to certain conditions, these works of art would be lent to the gallery for an indefinite period and would be known as the Humphreys Collection on loan from De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd.

This then, was the nucleus and the solid foundation upon which successive Art Gallery Councils have been able to expand and consolidate the collections, with the emphasis being placed on the acquisition of South Africa works of art.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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