De Jongh, Gabriel
Gabriel de Jongh
Born – 1913 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Died – 2004 in Cape Town, South Africa
Gabriel Cornelis de Jongh, the only son of the renowned artist Tinus, was faced with the challenge of establishing his reputation as an artist worthy of recognition in his own right. His magnificent land and seascapes grace the walls of public buildings and private residences throughout the country. Indeed, his works are also sought after by international art collectors.
Born on 6 April 1913 in Amsterdam, Holland, his boyhood years there were but a vague memory. Yet he vividly recalled his excitement when his father, who had travelled to South Africa in 1921, instructed his wife to follow with the family six months later. The spirited eight-year-old, exhilarated by visions of the adventures ahead, departed his birthplace without a backward glance. Henceforth his heart was to remain wholly devoted to his new home, South Africa.
On arrival they were temporarily housed in a cottage in Fish Hoek, where they lived for six months before settling in Heathfield. Accompanying his father on his extensive weekend hikes throughout the Cape Peninsula in his quest for painting subjects, Gabriel was soon introduced to the rigors of the life of a landscape artist. Utilising public transport closest to their destination, they walked the remaining distance carrying the heavy painting gear and camping equipment, Gabriel battling to keep pace with his energetic father. Despite the drawbacks he was cognisant of the valuable lessons learned on those trips.
For Tinus taught him to observe and mentally record all the facets of the landscape with the clarity and precision of a camera. He instilled in him the principle that so characterises their work, that it is light, reflected light and cast shadow that create form and dimension. The father’s enthusiasm for nature was reflected in the son who avidly absorbed all these revelations and stored them for future use.
Tinus’ acquisition of a car in 1923 enabled him to travel further afield, always accompanied by his family who shared in his new experiences with great gusto.
In 1924 Tinus moved to a larger home in Rondebosch where Gabriel attended Rondebosch and Wynberg Boy’s schools, matriculating in 1930. With insight Tinus advised his son against his wish to become a farmer, the choice falling on a career in commercial art. Prior to commencing his apprenticeship at The Cape Times, Gabriel spent a year studying watercolour techniques under his father’s supervision.
At The Cape Times, in addition to familiarisation with drawing, painting, layout, design and lettering in the art department he attended, as a part-time student, the technical college for tuition in special techniques and the Michaelis School of Art where he studied woodcarving under H V Meyerowitz. Gabriel soon realised that his father’s tuition was of inestimable value, for Tinus’ insistence on a solid grounding stood him in good stead.
Despite his crowded schedule, Gabriel spent every free moment in activity. Bearing in mind his father’s dictum that practical experience was the finest teacher, his lunch hours were spent sketching and painting small watercolours of such familiar city scenes as the Malay Quarter, Cape Town Docks and Table Mountain. Each evening he painted till midnight, depending upon Tinus for criticism of the completed works.
Thus his weekends were free for leisure time pursuits. Gabriel was an enthusiastic sportsman and a keen golfer. But it was on the tennis courts that he gained a reputation as a formidable opponent representing The Cape Times in the Merchant’s League tournaments and the Grand Challenge League for Western Province. He was also a member of the S A Turf Club and an owner of a champion racehorse, “Glorious”.
On completion of his apprenticeship he entered into the field of colour reproduction of fine art in the recently established photo-lithograhy department under the experienced guidance of Charles Hardy. It was here that he accumulated his vast store of knowledge of the dissection and composition of colours. Gabriel continued to utilise his spare time in perfecting his watercolour technique, employing a freedom of application which his father admitted was beyond his capability. It was during this period that he also experimented with etchings.
When Tinus held an exhibition at the Riviera Hotel, Hermanus on 19 January 1937, he suggested that Gabriel display some works. The twenty watercolours met with a gratifying response and were sold within the first day. But it was not till 1939, after his resounding success at the Annual Exhibition of the Natal Society of Artists, that Gabriel was acknowledged as an artist worthy of note.
His works displayed at the Annual Exhibition of the Eastern Province Society of Artists in Port Elizabeth received mention in a local newspaper, “Son steals father’s thunder!” to Tinus’ astonishment and delight. Thereafter Gabriel exhibited regularly at the art societies of East London, Queenstown and Orange Free State; the Langton and Pieter Wenning Galleries; and the S A Academy exhibitions in Johannesburg. He also exhibited at the 1946 Eeufees Exhibition in Bloemfontein and the 1946 exhibition of the S A Society of Artists.
After his marriage to Mercia Maria Kotze in 1938, Gabriel established a home of his own in Rondebosch, adjacent to Tinus who visited him frequently, continuing to advise him on his art.
Two major events were to prove a watershed in Gabriel’s life, namely his father’s tragic death and World War II. On 6 September 1939 the Union of South Africa united with the Allies in declaring war on Germany. Gabriel volunteered for active service but was refused leave of absence by The Cape Times because of his expertise in the photo-lithography department. With his father he served in the Civil Defence Corps until 1942 when all Dutch citizens domiciled in South Africa were called up for service by the Dutch government.
After a year of failing health Tinus was pronounced to be suffering from terminal cancer of the lungs. Gabriel was granted compassionate leave to attend his father’s deathbed, thereby miraculously escaping death himself. The troopship transporting the Seventh Contingent, from which he was recalled, was torpedoed en route to Britain with a loss of all lives. During his vigil at his father’s bedside Gabriel pondered on the lamentable extinction of Tinus’ talent and vast store of knowledge. In a fitting tribute to his father he vowed to make optimal use of the foundation blocks which he had so generously provided, on which to build his artistic career.
On 17 July Tinus passed away. Gabriel had barely completed the funeral arrangements when he was instructed to join the Eighth Contingent of the Koninklijke Nederlandsche Brigade, Prinses Irene and departed on the “Sabajak” on 20 November, arriving in Britain on 16 December 1942.
Amidst preparations for the Allied Second Front he spent his free time sketching and painting watercolours of the English countryside, attending the Slade School of Art, which had been transferred to Windermere for the duration of the war, as a part-time student.
On 5 August 1944 he departed for Arromanches, Normandy with Fighting Unit 111, 49th Division attached to the 21st Army Group as part of the follow-up forces to expand the beachhead. They advanced to the River Orne to take over from the 6th British Airborne Division which had landed on D-Day, 6 June, and then continued on to Belgium. On 4 September they were transferred to the 1st Army Group as an army of occupation. They were directed to Holland as follow-up forces for Operation Market Garden. From 17 September till 7 October they held the bridge at Graves which, on 17 September had been gained by the US 82nd Airborne Division. In the midst of the action, Gabriel still found time to sketch and paint many historical scenes of the Second Front.
While standing guard at Wispic on 4 November he was injured by anti-personnel shells and hospitalised. Thereafter his active participation in the war was over. The Medical Commission graded him Medically unfit for duty. He departed Glasgow on the “Strathaird” on 22 May 1945 and arrived in South Africa on 12 June.
For his service he was awarded the Atlantic Star 1939-1945; Defence Medal 1939-1945; 1939-1945 Star; Army of Occupation Medal, Victory Medal, and the Oorlogsherrineringskruis met Gespen, Krijg te Land 1940-1945 and Normandie 1944.
The Netherlands Military Mission granted him 30 days leave commencing 13 June, after which he returned to work at The Cape Times. Unsettled by the experiences of the past three years, Gabriel found difficulty in adjusting to civilian life. In reality he suffered from what is now recognised as post traumatic stress disorder, and from which he never truly recovered.
He frequently recalled his revelation at this father’s bedside and, resolving to devote himself entirely to art, he terminated his employment. During Tinus’ lifetime, Gabriel had only painted in water colours, perhaps an unconscious attempt to retain his identity while working in the shadow of his famous father. Now, for the first time, he directed his efforts at painting in oils. These were first exhibited at Maskew Miller’s Art Gallery, Cape Town and the exhibition was opened by the Netherlands Consul General, Dr A L Wurfbain on 16 November 1945, and received favourable notices.
In 1946 he purchased a caravan built on the chassis of a three-ton army truck. With his wife and son Tinus, he set out on an extended painting tour of the Eastern Cape, Basutoland and Natal, in the process building up a store of subject knowledge. During a lengthy stay at the Cathedral Peak Hotel in the Drakensberg the proprietor, Albert van der Riet encouraged him to hang his works on the premises. This proved instrumental in establishing his reputation as a painter in the oil medium.
Gabriel was an experienced artist who handled his palette with an innate understanding of the technicalities involved in the use of light and colour. Comprehensibly, after painting for some seventy years, his art manifested a pattern of development and growth. The early works in oils reveal the influence of his father in the choice of subject matter, but differ in technique and application of perception. Where Tinus’ canvasses reveal his obsession with light/dark contrasts produced by the setting sun, Gabriel, no doubt due to his experience with water colours, prefered the delicate tones and atmospheric blue of the Cape mountains. Tender blue peaks covered in transparent mist or solid giants bathed in light with dramatic clouds that writhe and swirl across the canvas, were his forte.
Despite his extensive tours of Britain, Europe, South America and East Africa he remained single-mindedly devoted to portraying the scenery of the Western Cape. His love of the sea led to his acquisition of the tuna craft, Pocketa, in which he travelled to the deep, past Cape Point. The varying moods of the sea, which sweep across his canvas, reveal his sensitive response to the imposing scenery off the False Bay Coast. A view of Cape Point hangs in the clubhouse of the Marlin and Tuna Club of which he was a serving member.
An important phase was initiated by Gabriel’s apprehension of two factors. To achieve light he had been employing the application of thick paint in light-filled hues with shadowed contrasts, thus drawing the eye of the viewer towards the solid texture of the paint on the canvas. But, looking directly into the sun, he observed that pure light is transparent and ethereal, without shadow and formless. His resolve to capture that fugitive light culminated in delicately diffused compositions which he called his “liquid light” paintings.
With the passage of time his attitude towards landscape painting underwent a subtle change. He maintained that, with the development of sophisticated photographic techniques, he no longer aspired to be a perceptual window on the world. Instead he cultivated an intensely personal vision, infusing his work with his emotional response to the transient moods of nature. No longer a mere recorder or nature, he became involved in the act of creation itself. To him the most gratifying aspect of his approach was the feeling of empathy with the viewer who can now enter into the painting and explore his emotional response with the artist.
He created an imaginative series of lyrical interpretations of musical compositions, among the The Swan of Tuonela by Sibelius; Fingal’s Cave by Mendelssohn; The Flying Dutchman by Wagner; and The Slave’s Chorus from Nabucco by Verdi. His series, Christmas Day; The Calming of the Sea of Galilee; The Crucifixion; The Road to Heaven; and Footprints are filled with religious symbolism, an outward manifestation of his inner search for meaning in life and death.
Gabriel’s philosophy embraced a cosmic vision in which God was the divine spark which animated all living things. As part of His Creation, he reasoned, it is our moral duty to live in harmony with nature and to strive to preserve it. To that end, he maintained that we should cultivate a sensitivity to the natural beauty that surrounds us, thus establishing a sympathetic and harmonious relationship with The Creation. In his landscapes nature dominates the environment where man is the intruder. His spectacular garden is mute testament to his love of the soil and respect for nature.
Amongst interesting painting commissions are the Villa Dubochet, Geneva, where President Paul Kruger spent his final days in exile, for the fifth anniversary of the republic; Boekenhoutfontein, the historic homestead of the president, for the Simon van der Stel Foundation in 1970 in order to raise funds for the restoration of the building; The Landing of van Riebeek in Table Bay for the van Melle Biscuit and Toffee company in Holland; and landscapes for the launching of the first container ships, The Winterberg and The Helderberg. Rare works that he has executed are The Volcanic Eruption on Tristan da Cuhna, 1963 for Mr Gaggins; Aftermath of the Floods, Laingsburg, 1981, donated to the Lion’s Club for fund-raising pruposes and a 1,8 x 2,4 metre canvas of The Elephant Ndlulamithi, donated to the Kruger National Park.
Notable public figures, both national and international who own his works are HM, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who was presented with a view of Table Mountain by the Victoria League in October 1951; Henry Ford III who was presented with a painting by the Ford Motor Company who also have a scene of a Dutch East Indiaman rounding Cape Point in their head office; the golfer, Gary Player; the late lady Baden-Powell; Rear Admiral J A Tyree, US Navy; and the Stewarts, sugar barons in Stanger, Natal who own some forty of his paintings. His works are housed in the state residences, Die Presidensie and Free State House; the Ann Bryant Gallery, East London; and Wynberg Boy’s High School.
The measure of admiration with which he regarded his father led to the establishment of theTinus de Jongh Memorial Gallery in Stellenbosch in 1981. Public interest in Tinus’ work had brought about the realisation of the need for a comprehensive exhibition for the purpose of promoting a greater understanding of Tinus de Jongh’s artistic aspirations and proved to be a major tourist attraction on the wine route. Regrettably its doors were closed ten years later when the Lanzerac hotel changed hands.
Gabriel died on 11th March 2004 shortly before his 91st birthday. He is survived by his son Tinus who runs a small gallery in Cape Town containing a cross representation of the works of both Tinus and Gabriel.