William Fehr Collection at the Castle of Good Hope
Fine and interesting examples of paintings and decorative arts of special relevance to the Cape are to be found in the William Fehr Collection. Contained in the collection is a wealth of historical information concerning the peoples and landscapes of early colonial South Africa. It is one of the most important public collections of artefacts of the period.
The collection on a certain level can be viewed as a reflection of the outlook and aesthetics of one person. William Fehr was born in 1892 in Burghersdorp, Cape. A businessman by profession, he cherished a love of pictorial art. It was in the late 1920s that his attention turned to collecting South African-related paintings, prints and drawings. He later extended his interest to furniture and other objects.
William Fehr acquired objects and art works at a time when there were still few private collectors and little systematic collecting by local public institutions. He lent his collection for public exhibition at the Castle in 1952. In 1964 the South African government purchased his oil paintings, furniture, ceramics metal and glassware. In the following year he donated his unique collection of art works on paper to South Africans, to be placed in Rust en Vreugd, a short distance away from the Castle. Dr William Fehr died in 1968.
About the William Fehr Collection
The William Fehr Collection is exhibited at the Castle of Good Hope and Rust en Vreugd, both historic buildings. The Castle, Cape Town’s oldest building, houses the components of oil paintings, furniture and decorative arts. Rust en Vreugd, a very fine example of colonial eighteenth century urban architecture, houses the art on paper – prints, drawings and watercolours. The artefacts including the art works date from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth century, the period of Dutch colonial settlement and, after 1795, the era of British occupation. The art works particularly constitute a uniquely rich and important resource for many aspects of the history of the period.
The collection reflects the outlook and aesthetics of a single collector, William Fehr (1892–1968), and his social context, and so differs from most museum collections that are the result of selection by museum staff over an extended period. William Fehr’s private collection was first displayed at the Castle in 1952 during the Van Riebeeck Tercentenary Festival. Here a large proportion remained on loan until the whole collection was acquired by the South African government in the years 1964–1965 and then distributed between the Castle and Rust en Vreugd. The portion of the collection at Rust en Vreugd was presented by William Fehr as a gift to the nation.