History of the building

From an initial bequest of 45 paintings presented in 1871 by Thomas Butterworth Bayley, the collection of Iziko South African National Gallery has grown to one of international stature, encompassing substantial holdings of South African, African and Western European art. The richness of the foreign collection is almost entirely due to the munificence of the early patrons of the Gallery.

The main building, designed by Clelland & Mullins (Public Works Department) and FK Kendall, was completed in 1930, with funds from the Government, the City Council and the Hyman Liberman Estate. Since then various improvements have been made to the building, including the introduction of climate control and an upgraded lighting system in 1991.

The permanent collection contains particularly fine examples of British art and many leading artists of the early 20th century are represented, including members of the New English Art Club and those of the Bloomsbury Group. Works by John Walker, Michael Porter, Gary Wragg, Alan Davie and Ronald Kitaj were acquired in the 1980s. Under funding and the prohibitive prices of Western art have limited any significant additions to these collections.

At the same time, the extraordinary vitality and significance of the art that began to emerge in South Africa in the 1980s, brought about a shift in acquisition policy, which now concentrates on contemporary South African art. Serious attempts are made to fill the gaps in the collection resulting from the apartheid past. Since 1990 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 artifacts that were removed from the country over the last two hundred 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.

Selections from the permanent collection change regularly and temporary exhibitions of paintings, works on paper, photography, new media, sculpture, beadwork and textiles are hosted. They provide insight into the range of aesthetic production in South Africa, the African continent and further a field.

The Michaelis Collection also forms part of the Art Division of Iziko Museums of Cape Town. It housed in the Old Town House on Greenmarket Square, built in 1755 in Cape Rococo style. Donated by Sir Max Michaelis in 1914, it comprises a world-renowned collection of Netherlandish art from the 17th century, including paintings and works on paper by Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Jacob Ruisdael, Anthony van Dyck and Rembrandt.