Museum at a glance: The Iziko South African National Gallery

  • Posted: Jun 14, 2013

While it may seem like quite an imposing building, with its stark white façade, towering Greek pillars, and massive doors opening out onto the Company’s Gardens  – the interior of the Iziko South African National Gallery is as warm and familiar as a Xhosa mud hut. Our friendly Gallery staff are waiting to welcome you to experience the beauty of our national heritage.

From an initial bequest of 45 paintings presented in 1871 by Thomas Butterworth Bayley, serious attempts have been made to fill the gaps in the collection resulting from our apartheid past. Thanks to the transformation that occurred following the amalgamation of the five national museums in the Western Cape – the South African National Gallery, South African Cultural History Museum, South African Museum, the William Fehr Collection and the Michaelis Collection in 2001 – the Gallery now concentrates on contemporary South African art. One of the major tasks has been to establish a collection that acknowledges and celebrates the expressive cultures of the African continent, particularly its southern regions. An authoritative collection of beadwork has been established and the permanent collection has been enriched with the addition of indigenous sculpture, as well as the repatriation of artefacts that were removed from the country over the last 200 years. A comprehensive database contains information on the artists and works in the permanent collection and over the years a series of excellent catalogues has been published.

As a national museum, our mandate is to conserve, preserve and interpret the cultural, natural and artistic heritage that is part of the national estate, to make our knowledge and collections accessible and to showcase our tangible and intangible heritage for all South Africans and future generations. The introduction of sophisticated climate control and an upgraded lighting system in 1991 ensured that our prized collections are exhibited in an optimal environment, and the more recent installation of CCTV cameras ensures the safety of our collections, visitors and staff.

Selections from the permanent collection change regularly, and temporary exhibitions of paintings, works on paper, photography, new media, sculpture, beadwork and textiles are hosted. These provide insight into the range of aesthetic production in South Africa, the African continent, and further afield, with fine examples of Western European art represented.

So, next time you are strolling on Government Avenue why not take a short left at the Gallery. Currently on exhibition, Objects from the Tide of Time offers a glimpse into the changes in the Gallery’s collecting policy over the past 130 years; and the photographic exhibition Umhlaba 100 Years: Commemorating the 1913 Land Act, that explores contentious issues around land. Or join the Friends of the Iziko South African National Gallery for a Behind-the-Scenes tour at 11:00 on 20 June.


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